Shutdown Takes Toll on Robotics

The government shutdown changes venue for national robotics competition.


Photo: Snowden Farnsworth

Junior Elizabeth Crane and Sophomore Kagan Sears prepare reconfigure their robot. They practiced on the field to prepare for the upcoming competition.

The St. George’s robotics team got a close-up view of the government shutdown when VEX announced that they had changed the venue for their Signature Event competition, taking place on Jan. 26, 2019, from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum to a facility for consumer shows.

The government shutdown, which began Dec. 22, 2018, is impacting the nation in a variety of ways. Federal workers have, for the most part, stopped receiving paychecks. The consequences of this can be seen in the increased wait times at airport security lines, the recent lack of rangers at national parks, and closure of most national museums and galleries.

“There doesn’t seem to be any end in sight,” AP US Government teacher Ms. Emily Metz said. “This is the longest shutdown in history.”

There doesn’t seem to be any end in sight.”

— Ms. Metz

For the robotics team, that means a serious change in their upcoming trip. The VEX Night at the Museum Robotics Competition was originally going to be held at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Plans were changed when Vex released this statement on their website:

“We have officially changed the location of our Signature Event to the Dulles Expo Center. We waited out the shutdown as long as we could. We had to finalize logistics and give those groups firm location commitments by this time.”

Junior Elizabeth Crane was looking forward to this opportunity.

“I was excited to go to the space museum,” Crane said. “They were going to become an annual thing. The tournament is called the ‘Night at the Museum’ tournament, and they were going to set up the fields under the old Voyager. I was really excited to get to go to that museum because I’ve never been to DC before, so I’ve never gotten to go to any of these museums or anything like that. So I’m sad.”

Compared to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the Dulles Expo Center is much less notorious. It is an exhibition facility for shows and trade events in Metropolitan Washington DC. It is spacious enough to accommodate the 60 high school teams from around the world that come to compete in this Signature Event.

Junior Allison Evans is disappointed in the change of venue.

“If the government stays shut down or even if the airports close then we won’t be able to fly there,” Evans said. “We would have to drive, and it will be a whole mess. Going to a different venue just doesn’t seem as worth it for all of that when we could have just stuck with the league we are doing now.”

Despite the letdown due to the change of venue because of the government shutdown, the team still is excited to compete and is honored to have been selected.

This is kind of a big deal.”

— Elizabeth Crane

“You have to have won a regional tournament to qualify to go to this tournament. There are 50 to 60 teams around the United States that are all going to the DC area to compete,” Crane said.  “Because there are so many teams there, this competition is giving out World’s bids, so you could qualify for the World’s competition. This is kind of a big deal.”

The Robogryphs are remaining positive. Though the team realizes their chances of qualifying are small, they can potentially make it all the way to the the 2019 VEX Robotics World Championship.

“We are mostly looking at this as a learning experience,” Crane said. “We want to talk to some of the really good teams and maybe get some ideas and then hopefully qualify for Worlds at State. We aren’t really expecting to qualify for Worlds at this tournament, but we are going to do our best!”