McALLEN — On the grounds where sports rule the field most of the year, a unique inaugural event was held Friday at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium for the district’s techies to show off their skills.
The McAllen school district developed the “Tech Wars” robotic competition to allow students to compete against one another. Drone racing, battle bots and unmanned vehicle competed on the football field while video gaming competition took place in the breezeway of the west side bleachers.
McAllen ISD Superintendent J.A. Gonzalez was the force behind the idea of creating Tech Wars.
“We wanted to give kids with these technology talents the opportunity to shine, so it’s not about the star quarterback or star pitcher or great swimmer or great volleyball, but now it’s about the great drone racer,” Gonzalez said. “We want to create a name for kids based on this kind of talent and we know that it’s not about the robots, it’s about the teamwork, the collaboration, the critical-thinking.”
Gonzalez said that as we move further into the 21st century, fields like medicine and engineering are becoming all about robotics. He predicted that society moving forward is going to be all about robotics.
The district hopes to expand on the success of the first event.
“Our dream is to have this stadium full one day and make it an invitational where we have other school districts and have multiple teams from other school districts here competing for points and competing to be best in the Valley,” Gonzalez said.
The fierce battles began about 5 p.m. with the drone competition that featured about 125 students. Students from all three McAllen high schools participated including students from Achieve Early College High School, Lamar Academy and the Instruction and Guidance Center.
Ann Vega, McAllen ISD’s director of instructional technology and library services, said it was an idea that began in August with the practice beginning in February.
“Many times they (students) get all this instruction about the mechanics of how everything works, but we wanted them to actually build things and to really apply everything that they’re learning in class,” Vega said. “We really just wanted to have an event that made it fun.”
The drone track course occupied most of the football field and was shaped similar to a figure eight. Each team had to complete three laps around the course.
The teams included a pilot who wore a virtual reality headset and handled the drone with a co-pilot serving as navigator.
McAllen High School student Ada Cepeda was a pilot for her team.
“ I really liked the communication I had with my partner,” Cepeda said.
She said that competing on a space as large as a football field was a new experience for them.
“ A lot of the technology was being able to see it up close compared to seeing it wide view on the field,” Cepeda said. “We just needed more time at the beginning to mess with settings because the setting that I had wasn’t as fast as it supposed to be going.”
Following the drone competition was the Battle Bot Competition, where the three high schools constructed a fighting robot and fought for the win on a wooden platform by the track.
Nikki Rowe High School senior Xavier Gonzalez was the pilot of “Rampage” and along with teammates Nick Castillo, Noel Bazan and Miguel Martinez, used a strategy of survival to beat out the other teams.
“ We started pretty late — about a week and a half — and we wanted to see the best idea, so we went online and saw that a lot of people get flipped, so we did it that if it gets flipped it can still get driven around and it’s still drivable,” Gonzalez said. “Our main objective was to get it fast and be able to come back clear.”
The night wrapped up with an unmanned vehicle competition where miniature modular trucks raced three laps around the field in a course similar in shape to the drone track.
Winners received trophies and bragging rights for their school.