There was no magic involved when the Wizards.exe came home from Detroit with the First Tech Challenge World Championship Inspire Award in hand, along with their robot, which took 10th out of 6,000 teams from around the globe.
Eleven Montgomery County teenagers have been working diligently since the start of the school year to build a robot that could differentiate colors, sense distances, and pick up cardboard blocks and then assemble them into a pattern – all within two-and-a-half minutes.
Ishaan Oberoi, a 10th-grader at Richard Montgomery High School, and his younger brother, Arjun Oberoi, an eighth-grader at Takoma Park Middle School, were in the car several years ago when they spotted a billboard for a robotics competition.
It sounded interesting, and “there was nothing much like this in school,” so the boys joined, said Ishaan. Their father, Pankaj Oberoi, agreed to be their coach, and they have been going strong ever since.
The Wizards.exe slogan is “Share the Magic.”
“We want to share what we’ve gotten out,” said Ishaan.
Added Devasena Sitaram, a ninth-grader at Montgomery Blair High School, the “exe” in their name stands for “Engage, Expand, Educate.” It is a play on “exe,” a common filename extension of an executable file.
The 11 team members, who are in eighth through 12th grades, meet three times a week for two to three hours, usually in the basement of the Oberoi Rockville home.
Computer supplies, a 3D printer, robot parts, and notebooks take up about half the room. A huge matted area is set aside to run their robot through its drills. Their many trophies fill up shelves along one wall.
Team members also are responsible for keeping meticulous records of their work, raising money for their trips, and spreading their love of robotics. They go to elementary schools and town festivals, looking for recruits.
“It’s almost like running a small business,” said Sitaram.
The team won the international Inspire Award at the end of April for their success in attracting students from kindergarten on up to the world of robotics.
This school year, Wizards.exe has worked at 105 events, clocking 1,420 hours of outreach, noted Sitaram, who said the Wizards.exe have “impacted over 30 teams.”
“We demo the robots. Kids love that,” she said.
The Wizards.exe member even got the County Board of Education to allow a robotics team at Watkins Glen, Ritchie Park and William Gibbs, Jr., elementary schools. The Wizards.exe fund those teams, using money from donations and grants.
To get to the finals, the Wizards.exe first won the Eastern Regionals, enabling them to compete against 128 teams in the finals, where they ended in 10th place.
That’s where they also won the Inspire Award for being “a strong ambassador” and “a role model,” according to the program manual.
Each team member has a specific role, including Coach Oberoi, who “is a guide. He’s not going to tell us what to do. He doesn’t know how to program in the language we are using,” said Ishaan. “All of the work is done by the kids. He’s just there to make sure we are going in the right direction.”
While very serious, the team members clearly enjoy what they do.
Rohan Dewan, an eighth-grader at Julius West Middle School, is appreciative that while he learns how to make a robot do what he wants, he also is gaining “important life skills that will really help you later in life.” Right now, the young man is thinking of a career in medicine or politics.
Sitaram, who is considering a future in engineering, enjoys meeting other students from all around the world. That’s why she is hoping they will be able to raise enough money to attend this summer’s event in Mexico City.
Ishaan Oberoi also wants to pursue engineering. Being involved with the Wizards.exe “increased a passion for all of us.”