After spring break, the Independence School District's robotics team will be preparing for an April trip to Houston.

The team, dubbed FBI – First Bots of Independence – qualified for the international FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Championships after playing on the winning alliance at last weekend's Greater Kansas City Regional. That competition was at the Metropolitan Community College Business & Technology Campus. It’s the fifth time the Independence team has qualified for worlds,

The FBI team allied with North Kansas City's STING-R and Lee's Summit West's Team Titanium to win the championship rounds after finishing third from round-robin alliances. Independence had won regionals in 2014 and 2015 and earned a wild-card berth in 2016.

Fort Osage's robotics team, CTC Inspires, had been on the regional finalist alliance, and it also advanced to the FIRST Championships, earning a wild card berth. The international competition is April 18-21 at the George Brown Convention Center in Houston.

The FBI team consists of 30 students from the three Independence School District high schools, and lead coach Jared Hook said about 25 are on the competition team. Most of them come from William Chrisman and Truman, and three are from Van Horn.

“We've been trending up for several years,” said Hook, who teaches at Chrisman. “Last year we didn't draw good (at regionals), but this year we were in the top percent.”

“We had a good collaborative effort with our team. We did a lot of team building this year. Three schools together is the best blessing. There's some logistic challenges, but it's a lot closer to real life.”

Hook said the team is young – numerous freshmen and sophomores – but has had great leaders like Remy Mathenia, a senior from Truman who serves as captain and robot's primary driver.

“Definitely proud,” Mathenia said of FBI's regional win. “We've worked up to this for a few years and pushed ourselves. There was maybe some relief from the veterans

“It's generally hard to incorporate 30 people in one project, but we did a good job of directing our resources. The different perspectives is evident.”

This FIRST game that robotics teams had to design for involved picking up plastic cubes from around the playing arena and placing the cubes on teeter-totter structures.

FBI's robot has a lift that allows it to nearly double in height (54 to 92 inches), sports eight motors for different functions and used a series of wheels to grasp the cubes and release them, depending on rotation. The students dubbed their creation Melman, from the giraffe character in the animated movie “Madagascar,” because when the lift is fully extended the robot resembles the shape of that animal.

Hook said he tried to emphasize simplicity and streamlining but with quality as the students designed the robot this year. Many times when possible they would buy a part rather than try to engineer it themselves.

“Designing like we're going to win,” he said. “Their one motor went out (at regionals), but the design was so good it didn't matter.”

“We had some mechanical issues but nothing big,” Truman junior Britten Clark said, “Nothing really hard that we worried about.”

While team members could uncover and pose with the robot this week, they're not allowed to tinker with it before worlds. Hook said the robot will be shipped to Houston next week. But the FBI team has practice robot to allow for testing any alterations to try and improve the robot. Students took measurements of “Melman,” and they'll take some spare parts with them to Houston.

The team will also practice with Fort Osage's team and share a bus to Houston with the CTC Inspires students. In Houston, Hook explains, teams will have six hours on the first day to make any adjustments they want to the competition robot.

“We worked hard for six weeks-plus to get here, and we're really proud to get here, everybody on the team.” Mathenia said. “It's a testament to the hard work we've done.”

The team captain said he's most looking forward to contributing with other teams and seeing the machines they've built.

It's really fun collaborating with them,” he said.