First all-girls robotics team from San Francisco pioneers the Robotics World Championship

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Team leader Anya Jensen focuses on driving the robot. Photo courtesy of The Missfits

San Francisco’s first all-girls robotics team, led by a Lowell senior, met teams from as far as China and Mexico in the world championships in Houston, Texas in April.

“It’s not everyday that you get to see people from around the world and come together to compete with amazing innovations,” said senior Anya Jensen, this year’s leader of The Missfits, the only robotics team from San Francisco to qualify for the annual FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics championship.

The team earned the chance to participate in the championship after ranking in the top 10 in the Silicon Valley regional event.

“It’s not everyday that you get to see people from around the world and come together to compete with amazing innovations.”

Every April, students from around the globe participate in the FIRST Robotics Competition, where everyone celebrates the culture of innovation unique to FIRST. “Champs provided an exchange of ideas and sportsmanship,” said senior Christine Sam, a member of The Missfits. “We were able to share our experiences and find common ground.”

This year’s championship simulated an airship race where each robot competed for fuel collection. Each team had to form an alliance with two other teams. To The Missfits, however, this had developed into a minor disadvantage.

Members of The Missfits collaborate on robot’s maintenance. Photo courtesy of The Missfits

As a first-year participant, The Missfits were not prioritized in choosing their partners and many veteran teams preferred working with more experienced teams. This left The Missfits in an unfavorable situation. “There were moments where teams weren’t really listening to our advice because we’re a rookie team,” Jensen said. “Hopefully next year it won’t be a problem because we’ll no longer be a rookie team.”

Despite receiving biased judgements from other teams, The Missfits had a fruitful trip. Over the course of the championship, they attended featured conferences and talked with organizations’ representatives about scholarships offers.

Although The Missfits did not win the championship with their rank of twenty-fourth place out of 67 team, the team had performed “unexpectedly well” in the regionals, according to Jensen.

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Prior to the championship, they competed in two separate regional events, the San Francisco and the Silicon Valley Regional. As a rookie team just founded last summer, they immediately ran into various problems at the first regional.

During the SF Regional, the team encountered issues in their program’s codes and the drivetrain (the main supportive base of the robot). Between matches, they would gather together and collaborate on troubleshooting the robot. In the end of the regional, The Missfits received their very first award — the Rookie Inspiration Award.

Jensen fixes the robot. Photo courtesy of The Missfits

By the beginning of the Silicon Valley Regional, the team had fully adapted to the competition’s environment and were prepared to implement their solutions on the robot. After enforcing the new plans, the robot’s performance was significantly enhanced, which ultimately enabled them to the outstanding rank of eighth place out of 60 teams.

As unexpected as all the technical challenges, the announcement of their qualification to championship was no less exhilarating. Along with it, The Missfits had brought home another two awards: Highest Rookie Seed Award and Rookie All-Star Award for their thriving team spirit. It was this last award that handed the team the golden ticket to Houston.

The Missfits’ robot maintains a strong stance on the field. Photo courtesy of The Missfits

While excitement ignited among the team, none of the members could completely ease off as the shortage of funds once again emerged. With only a month left for championship, pressure for The Missfits on solving such urgent problem built up. Few days before championship, however, the team had finally reached their goal and raised a total of $15,125.

Just like building robots from scratch, The Missfits have grown on their journey of overcoming obstacles. “For a lot of us, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Jensen said, “I was just so proud of everything the team has done, and it’s just been so amazing how all the hard work from the team pay off.”

With Jensen’s graduation on May 24, a new leader of The Missfits will be chosen. More future arrangements of the team are still underway.

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