Metal in motion
by Denise Ellen Rizzo
Apr 12, 2013 | 3422 views | 1 1 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Robot readied for competition
Sophomores Jordon Moore (left), Huzaifa Abdul-Rehman, senior Maxwell Gibbard and sophomore Shiv Khanna — members of the West High robotics team — work on the moving arm of their robot on Tuesday, April 9. The team travels to Anaheim for a national robotics competition Wednesday, April 17.  Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
view slideshow (6 images)
West High School sophomore Jordan Moore flipped a switch Tuesday, April 9, and robotic arms designed to carry bags of plastic foam pellets began to move up and down.

The aluminum arms are part of an intricate robot created by the members of the West High Robotics Team to stack more bags than 419 other teams in the VEX World Championships at the Anaheim Convention Center from Wednesday, April 17, to April 21.

Since West began its robotics club in 2009, at least one team has landed a spot in the world competition each year.

“I was thrilled (to win a spot),” said Randy Moehnke, the club adviser, in his classroom Tuesday. “It’s been a challenging year for us. We had a lot of less-experienced teams.”

Moehnke said he started in September with 32 students on six teams. Two were made entirely of freshmen, and two others needed to make “dramatic” redesigns to their original robot concepts.

All of the teams competed at a March 2 regional event at West High School, but only one advanced to Anaheim by winning an award for its design concept.

Sophomore Huzaifa Abdul-Rehman said team members Skyped one another to talk about possibilities when they weren’t at school.

“It’s exciting to go to tournaments, but building is my favorite part,” he said. “It feels rewarding after you finish building it and it works.”

Also lending a hand in the design were Maxwell Gibbard and Jordan Moore. Moore said he enjoyed working out different concepts to build a winner.

Team members had to create a detailed notebook that showed the progress of the robot from inception to completion. The team’s presentation also included 3-D sketches and an iPad video of the design stages.

Although the West team has gone up against hundreds of teams in the course of four regional events, Moehnke said his winners always managed to persevere.

“They had been developing (their skills) all through the competitions,” he said. “They would look at the robot and make modifications after each tournament. It’s been a process to get to where they are now.”

To win at the world competition, the West robot must first perform several preprogrammed actions.

Then, the West team will become allies with another team, and the allies will square off against a pair of opponents to see who can pick up and stack the most plastic bags filled with foam pellets in a 12-square-foot arena.

Each robot is operated by two drivers, with Moore controlling direction and Abdul-Rehma lifting the bags. The team’s coach, sophomore Shiv Khanna, monitors the robot’s actions and advises each move.

“I have to coordinate both drivers and make sure we’re doing the right thing (to score),” he said. “I think we’re going to do fairly well. The team with the most wins is New Zealand, but China and Singapore have the most competitive robots. I’d like to go up against them, or be with them (as allies).”

Last year, Moehnke said his team placed 21st out of 100 in its division. But he said this year’s team is “as good, if not better.”

Abdul-Rehman also feels optimistic about his team’s chances.

“If all the building goes well,” he said, “I think we’ll have a pretty good shot.”

The sight of students working toward a career in robotics technology is welcomed by at least one city official.

Andrew Malik, Tracy’s director of development and engineering, said he had heard about the program at West High, but not in detail. He said the idea is to foster and develop the talent within each student.

“It’s all part of the package to get the skill sets in the right industries,” he said.

During a future meeting of city and school district officials, Malik said he will ask how the city can support the program.

• Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at 830-4225 or

At a glance

• WHAT: West High School Robotics Team competing at VEX World Championships

• WHEN: Wednesday, April 17

• WHERE: Anaheim Convention Center, 800 W Katella Ave.

• DETAILS: Adviser Randy Moehnke and team members senior Maxwell Gibbard, sophomore Shiv Khanna, sophomore Jordan Moore, and sophomore Huzaifa Abdul-Rehman.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
April 15, 2013
The Robotics team is a branch of Space and Engineering Academy at WHS.

Parents, if you are looking at high school programs for your freshmen, this one maps your child's four-year high school course and sets the UC/CSU college admissions as it standard for graduation. Besides the academics, life-long friendships are formed.

I know because my sons graduated from the Academy/WHS ready for college and with great friends.

We encourage readers to share online comments in this forum, but please keep them respectful and constructive. This is not a space for personal attacks, libelous statements, profanity or racist slurs. Comments that stray from the topic of the story or are found to contain abusive language are subject to removal at the Press’ discretion, and the writer responsible will be subject to being blocked from making further comments and have their past comments deleted. Readers may report inappropriate comments by e-mailing the editor at