Wheeler High School robotics team heading to national championship

Apr. 7—Days, months, and in some cases years of preparation will culminate for Wheeler High School's robotics team when they perform in a national robotics competition in Houston this month.

Nearing its 20th year, the school's CircuitRunners Robotics Team meets daily for two hours after school.

The team is one of three in Georgia that advanced from the Feb. 19 state championship in Gainesville. In that competition, they won the Inspire Award, an overall award for being a leading team in robotics, community outreach and volunteering. After succeeding at the state level, the group will compete among the top 150 robotics teams in the nation.

August Longhurst, a Wheeler High School senior and team leader, was part of the team that made the nationwide competition in 2019 and said getting back has been a long time coming.

"This has been three or four years in the making. Over the years of trying and failing at competitions and on robots we've built, we have learned a lot," he said. "I've been a part of it for four years. It's part of my life and my family. I love robotics."

Longhurst, who plans to major in aerospace engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville next fall, loves the innovation aspect of engineering and that anyone can change the world with the right idea.

"My dream as an engineer is to do the impossible. I want to eventually find a problem that people say is impossible, and I want to find a solution like Elon Musk," Longhurst said.

As a freshman on the 2019 team, Longhurst recalled what it was like seeing the nationwide talent on display.

"Everywhere you look, there are incredible ideas for robots... and they do things that you couldn't even think of," Longhurst said. "So it was a cool experience. It helped jumpstart my interest in loving robotics."

This year, the team has leaned on its two seniors, Longhurst and Nelitha Kulasiri. Eight of its members are freshmen. Despite his experience in robotics, Kulasiri said he would have some nerves leading up to the big competition.

"I'm a bit nervous because there's a lot of work you got to do to prepare for competition. It's going to be a lot of sleepless nights getting ready," Kulasiri said. "But, the end product is going to be so rewarding, and it's going to be a ton of fun."

After taking a month and a half to digitally design the specific aspects and parts of their robot, the team built their creation in five days. When determining where to put each piece, the group looked to Longhurst and Kulasiri for guidance.

The competition will pair them with another team and showcase their robot in a head-to-head matchup where each robot will have to pick up blocks and transfer them to designated areas where points will be determined.

The group's robot, named "Smol Bot," was built with custom parts that the team 3D printed with aluminum and polyurethane, among other components.

Wheeler's team will continue to hone its robot after school in the coming days as it prepares for its trip to the championship in Houston from April 20 to 23.

The group has a fundraising goal of $22,300 for hotel, travel, and food expenses for its trip and is around $18K short of its goal as of Thursday. Those interested in donating can do so at https://gofund.me/3f9acdfe.