SESF Mentored Student’s Team Wins Spot in Regional Robot Competition (Updated 02-22-17)

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UPDATE from Ryan, his Team is going the West Super-Regionals:

I wanted to update you guys about our performance this past weekend at the NorCal Regional Championship. Since Intel, we’ve made a lot of improvements to both autonomous and the launcher to increase the robot’s consistency. With these upgrades, we performed well in the qualifying rounds; in our last match, our alliance scored 205 points before penalties. Nevertheless, we faced some difficult opponents and were ranked 10th with a 3-2 record going into alliance selection. Unfortunately, we were picked by a poorly performing team to be a part of their alliance. Despite some close matches (we lost by only 9 points to the best team at the event!), we lost in the semifinals.

However, after watching the remaining matches with disappointment, we received the Motivate Award! Although normally not very coveted, this award qualified us for the West Super-Regionals, the next level of competition. This event includes a total of 72 teams from the 13 westernmost states and will take place March 10-12 in Tacoma, WA.

To help fund our trip, we’ve started a new wave of fundraising. We have a GoFundMe page (, and a PayPal donate button on our website ( We’d really appreciate it if you could spread the word. As the competition is in three weeks, we’d like contributions as soon as possible. 

By Russ Steele

On a Sunday morning, the Folsom Intel campus parking lot was quiet, just a few vehicles scattered across the tarmac. My wife Ellen and I had come to observe the Velocity Vortex robot competition sponsored by Qualcomm and supported by Intel.  Two competitors who are working together to promote STEM education opportunities for students.

As we approached the FM-7  Cafe, through a Courtyard, we could hear the rumble of voices spiked by cheers. Opening the Cafe door, we could feel the energy in the room roll over us. To our right were students cheering four robots, two red and two blue engaged in combat to see which team could score the most points. To our left a sea of tables with young men and women fine tuning their robots, and charging  batteries, as they waited for their turn on the scoring field, a 12 x12 foot instrumented open box with 1-foot high plastic walls.


The Scoring Field

We were fortunate to find some front row seats, in the staging area where the teams wait their turn in the scoring box. This position allowed us to examine the robots and their creators up close and still see the action in the scoring box on a large projection screen.  We saved some seats for fellow Sierra Economics and Science Foundation  Board member George Rebane and his wife, Jo Ann. We had come to cheer on the Nevada Union Team, Acme Robotics, lede by Ryan Brott, one of the students in the SESF TechTest Mentoring Program.


Acme Robotics Team

Shortly after George and JoAnn arrived the Acme Robotics team brought their robot 8367 to the staging area, and we were soon surrounded by the supporting parents, grandparents, and the team’s mentors Mike Oitzman and Michael Lewis.  Looking at the scoreboard it was clear 8367 was a strong competitor, having already won some of the early preliminary rounds of the competition.  At the end of the qualifying rounds robot, 8367 was #2 on the leaderboard.

The scoring is complicated and a challenge to write about without drowning the reader in the details.  For those interested, this video explains the scoring and the rules of the game, or check out the attached Velocity Vortex PDF Scoring Matrix.velocity-vortex-one-page

There are two phases in the live competition. The first phase is 30 seconds of autonomous operation, where the robot is controlled by onboard intelligence, followed by the controlled phase, where the robot is guided by an operator with a video game controller connected to an Android cellphone which was communicating with the onboard Android Phone. 

The competition is more than robotic combat on the scoring field.  As Mike Oitzman explained, the competition was set up to mimic a company start-up, where the students had to build a team, develop a plan, seek out funding sponsors, design and build their robot, and then develop a competitive strategy. Part of the evaluation is an assessment by the judges for the team demonstrating effective teamwork, creativity, good engineering practice and have a robust community outreach program.  

The NU Acme RoboticsTeam, includes hardware, software, marketing skills.

  •     Build team: Kellen Bodine (lead), Shawn Rashby, John Convis (CAD)
  •     Software team: Ryan Brott (lead), Kelly Muir
  •     Outreach team: Ivy Brott, Thea Pelayo

Hardware and Software Consulting

While this was clearly a team effort to win a spot at the regional finals, the autonomous routine written by Kelly and Ryan was a major factor in winning more matches than the competition.  They developed software that enabled the robot to position itself autonomously to capture the beacons on two sides of the scoring box.

Ryan said that mentoring by George Rebane, SESF Director of Research helped him to “gain some valuable insights” into robotic operations.


George Rebane and Ryan Brott

We could not stay for the final phase of the competition, leaving at the end of the qualifying rounds. The NU Acme Team finished the qualifying rounds in 2nd place and moved on to the semifinals.

“We easily beat the opposing alliance in the semifinals and went on to the finals where we unfortunately lost.” wrote Ryan Brott in an email. “The scores for both matches were very close (less than 15 points each). Fortunately, we received a prestigious [Innovation] award from judging that qualified us for the regional championships in three weeks.” 

The Regional Championship will be held on March 22rd – 25th, 2017 at the ARC Pavilion on University of California (UC), Davis campus. They expect 55 teams to compete, with over 2000 observers.  Ellen and I are planning to be in the crowd, cheering on the NU Acme Robotics Team led by Ryan Brott, an SESF mentored student.

TechTest2017 Update

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TechTest2017 will be held in the NU Science Lecture Hall on 1 April 2017 (Not a joke) from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM

George Rebane, SESF Director of Research will hold TechTest2017 preparation seminars on the 11th and 18th of March in the NU Science Lecture Hall from 10 AM to 12 Noon.  Increase your probability of getting a higher test score by attending these seminars.  

Previous TechTests can be use for practice for the final 2017 Merit Scholarship Exam on the 1st of April. Past tests can be down loaded HERE.

Another TechTest2016 Thank You Note

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Maddy Evan sent the following thank you note:


TechTest2016 Thank You Notes

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Ryan Bernadett  and Colby Scanlon sent the following TechTest2016 Thank You Notes:

Thank You Notes 07-23-16

The Board of Directors wishes both TechTest Participants great success in their chosen field. We certainly need more engineering talent in California.

Jessica Dent Letter

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Jessica Dent participated in TechTest2016 and wrote the attached letter about her experience.

Jessica Dent Letter 06-15-16

TechTestJr Winners Posted

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TechTest2016 Winners with their Quad-Copter and Programmable Robots.

On May 19th, the top 7th and 8th graders in the area gathered at Telestream in Nevada City, to participate in the fifth annual TechTest Jr, a math and science competition sponsored by the Sierra Economics and Science Foundation (SESF). A total of 41 students (26 girls and 15 boys) from 9 area schools, including Magnolia, Seven Hills, Mount St. Mary’s Academy, Lyman Gilmore, Forest Charter, Chicago Park, Weimar, and Grass Valley Charter, competed for STEM prizes that included quadcopters and a variety of programmable robots.

TechTest Jr is a math/science exam primarily for high performing 7th and 8th graders. It focuses on problem solving skills. The purpose is to provide students an opportunity to demonstrate their proficiency at applying math, science knowledge and problem solving. It’s intended to promote the development of critical thinking activities in the County and to help prepare students for future exams of this type, such as the SAT and ACT and the TechTest Merit Scholarship program, also sponsored by SESF for graduating high school seniors seeking STEM careers.

This year, holding the event at Telestream, showed students the type of opportunities that lie ahead of them as a result of their proficiency in math and science. Telestream and Anna Greco, VP of Client Services Enterprise Products were fabulous hosts to the students, providing tours of their facility, showing product demos and even livestreaming the event and student interviews to their Facebook page.

The exam consisted of 33 challenging math and science problems. The students had almost two hours in which to complete the test. More details posted under the TechTestJr Navigation tab above.

TechTest2016 Survivors Breakfast

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TechTest marked its 10th anniversary at Tofanelli’s in Grass Valley where this year’s survivors were inducted.  TechTest (‘Where the Elite Compete’), is the merit scholarship examination taken by a select group of Nevada County high school seniors headed for careers in science and technology.  Tech Test is written and sponsored by the Sierra Environmental Studies Foundation, and is administered by Mrs. Barbara Ross, Nevada Joint Union High School District Scholarship Coordinator.

This year’s breakfast was well attended by ‘survivors’, parents, local educators including Dr. Louise Johnson (NJUHSD Superintendent), SESF board members, and contributors to the TT2016 merit scholarship fund.  Scholarships are awarded strictly on the basis of test scores.

This year’s stellar survivors have just committed to universities and colleges ranging from Stanford to Dartmouth, Reed, Butler, CAL, University of Nevada, Reno, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.  The breakfast provides an opportunity for everyone to share their plans and reflect on their (4-hour) test experience – TT2016 was judged to be “a little harder” than previous editions, even though the top score was still in the mid-range.  Dr. George Rebane, the author of the test, challenges you to judge for yourself and check out past tests and their solutions at

Also highlighted at the event was SESF’s TechMentor program that supplies tutors and mentors to Nevada County schools.  These volunteers act as a teachers’ resource to work with students who have special remedial or advanced study’s needs.

The plans for TT2017 include increasing the scholarship fund by inviting local businesses, especially the high tech companies, to contribute and get more involved with young people heading for technical careers.  If you wish to participate in TechTest or TechMentor, please email Dr. Rebane at

And for the younger crowd, TechTestJr2016 will be given to seventh and eighth graders from various county middle schools.  This exam intends to motivate the younger students to take STEM subjects in high school.  Also sponsored by SESF, it is now in its fifth year.  TechTestJr awards prizes for high scorers consisting of electronics and other technology related kits for assembly and study.

This year’s top three high school senior scorers are (in alphabetical order): Ryan Bernadett, Joe Fenner, Teddy Hill-Weld.

Congratulations to the newly inducted Survivor Club members and their proud parents. As a memorabilia of the event, each survivor parted with a Tech Test t-shirt worn with pride in their accomplishments. SESF ED Russ Steele invites Survivors, both current and past, to keep in touch through the SESF TechTest Survivors page.

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