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Student-designed software sets the stage for Robot Rumble

Published February 28, 2024

Some things just never get old, and high on that list is watching robots designed and built by high school students smash into one another in a last-robot-standing competition.

So it is with eager anticipation that Wheeling High School will host this year’s annual D214 Robot Rumble on March 1 and 2, drawing 358 students and 43 robots from 14 Northwest suburban high schools, including all six District 214 comprehensive schools.

In yet another impressive display of student innovation, Rumble fans who cannot attend in person will nonetheless be able to watch the action through a beautifully designed app created by three John Hersey High School students.

Working through Hersey teacher Bob Brown’s AP Computer Science Principles course, students Ben Wojtowicz, Cody Brown and Vincent Chen designed the 2.0 version of BotBracket, available for iPhone or tablets in Apple’s App Store. 

Three other Hersey students – Andrew Nowak, Adam Cubas and Ashley Saju – two years ago created the original app, which allowed those attending Robot Rumble in person to sort through the event’s organized chaos to see which teams were squaring off at any given time.

The updated app not only identifies each team currently in the ring,  it also lists all team members, updates all team records throughout the competition and - best of all - provides a livestream to anyone who has the app, no matter where they are. The app informs its user of which team won each match and then continues to a livestream of the next round. 

Each year, both Prospect and Hersey invite anyone at the school to suggest an App Idea. Similar to "Shark Tank," the students choose which apps will be created. Ben, Cody and Vincent choose BotBracket to be upgraded for this year's event.

“Doing something in the real world for a real client allows students to grow immensely in their understanding of computer science,” said Brown, who directs students’ work in Hersey robotics which also includes teachers Rich Hyde, Jim Vanbladel and Eric Dieterich.

Senior Ben Wojtowicz, one of the trio who updated the app, concurs with Brown on the real-world value of the experience. “I think both being in robotics and coding the app will help me in college, because I learned a lot of new things about engineering and programming that I will definitely use in the future,” he said.

As for the Rumble itself, the competition will follow a double-elimination bracket. Teams of students pit the robots they designed and built head to head in two divisions: one for bots weighing no more than 60 pounds and one for weapon-carrying robots weighing a maximum of 85 pounds. All batteries are the same and specifications, to ensure a level playing field.

For Robot Rumble fans who can neither attend or obtain the app, the event will be livestreamed at from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday, March 1, and at from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 2.