Cape Town robotics team to represent SA in global competition in Texas, US

Texpand, a Cape Town-based robotics team won the national championship and has been invited to participate in Houston, Texas in April. Picture: Supplied / Michelle Buckle

Texpand, a Cape Town-based robotics team won the national championship and has been invited to participate in Houston, Texas in April. Picture: Supplied / Michelle Buckle

Published Feb 26, 2024


A Cape Town robotics team has proven they have what it takes to compete with the world’s best after they were named national champions at the First Tech Challenge.

Texpand, a team comprising of school learners from ages 12 and 17 come from various communities across the province including Pinelands, Mitchells Plain, Simon’s Town, Plumstead, Grabouw, and Robertson.

The competition, which took place in Table View last week, saw 21 of the top teams from around the country battle it out for the top spot.

This competition sees over 9,000 teams across the globe compete in regional, and national events, and everyone has their eyes set on the global competition, FIRST Championship set to take place in Houston, Texas from April 17 to April 20.

Texpand, a Cape Town-based robotics team won the national championship and has been invited to participate in Houston, Texas in April. Picture: Supplied / Michelle Buckle

“First Tech Challenge (FTC) is a competition for youth to learn and apply science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) skills in a fun, creative and competitive environment. Every year the competitors are faced with a brand new robotics game, with various tasks and challenges that they must perform to outscore the opposing teams.

“This season’s challenge is called CenterStage and teams score points by collecting hexagonal pixels at various locations and placing them on an almost vertical backboard.

“If the team can arrange them in specific patterns, they get extra points and if they can stack them high enough on the backboard they score further bonus points. Teams also score points by launching paper drones (paper planes) consistently into a target zone and finally by getting their robots to hang entirely suspended on a crossbar at the end of the game,” Texpand coach Michelle Buckle told IOL.

The Texpand robot. Picture: Supplied / Michelle Buckle

She said in each match, teams are randomly allocated an alliance partner which they form temporarily for a specific match.

Buckle said these teams are then encouraged to strategise and make the most of their combined robot capabilities to win against the two other opposing teams.

“For the first 30 seconds in the game, the robots are programmed to perform certain tasks autonomously - no human control allowed. Some of the techniques used in controlling the robots are technically advanced – for example, Texpand’s CenterStage robot uses multiple sensors: odometry wheels for exact field positioning; distance sensors to optimise pixel placement on the backboard; cameras and image processing for identifying and aligning to objects; and gyro sensors to sense robot heading,” Buckle explained.

Texpand, a Cape Town-based robotics team won the national championship and has been invited to participate in Houston, Texas in April. In green is their alliance team, Creepy Crawlies from Pretoria. Picture: Supplied / Michelle Buckle

Texpand won the regional competition in January.

They faced competitors from Cape, Pretoria, Johannesburg, and eSwatini. Every team had five qualifying group games with randomly selected alliance partners.

The top four teams went through to the semi-finals, and during the finals it was a best out of three match format with their own choice of alliance partners for the knock-out stages.

“Texpand selected the Creepy Crawlies (based in Pretoria) as their alliance partner for the finals and advanced through to the semi-finals. In the finals they faced the alliance of Innovatrix (from Malmesbury) and Galactic Einsteins (from Worcester). In the first of the final matches, Texpand led their alliance to a landslide victory and a new South African national record, scoring 216 to 80 points.

“This new record proves that the Texpand robot is now on par with many of the best robots in the world. The second match was a much tighter affair, with Texpand having a pixel lodged inside their robot and Innovatix and Galactic Einsteins both bringing their best game to post the top opposing score of the day, however, it was ultimately not enough with an end score of 172 to 141, and so Texpand and Creepy Crawlies clinched the National Championship in two games,” Buckle said.

This is the second consecutive South African championship for Texpand.

They have now been invited to Houston where they will be competing against 200 of the world’s top teams.

Competition, which is a nice win for the team, is not their sole focus. Instead, they have to share their knowledge in robotics and STEM with other youth from Cape Town and around the world.

Buckle said the team hosts robotics activation workshops in under-resourced communities, assists in training and mentoring schools in robotics, and assists other robotics teams in eight different countries from around the world.

“Our team couldn’t afford to pay for technical coaching or expensive parts, but the FTC online community and culture of outreach has made it possible for us to set goals we know we can’t achieve and then learn from the best teams in the world at no cost. Since we have benefited from the generosity of others, we are passionate about helping others gain access to robotics.

“We developed our very own activation workshops to tell people that robotics is great fun and is for everyone. These are fun, multi-station workshops in small groups. So far, 28 girls from the Cape Flats and 47 pre-schoolers from Khayelitsha have participated in these workshops. And the team has plans for more,” Buckle said.

Isa Adams, 14, from Mitchells Plain who is a member of Texpand said he had wanted to be a scientist since Grade R.

“I always wanted to be a scientist since Grade R. I joined the Robotic Club at Silverlea Primary School, and we won two competitions with the help of Sakhikamva and the Texpand team who came to mentor and train us.

“Then last year, I joined Texpand as a novice programmer. I am so grateful for this opportunity that I can be part of the best robotics team in South Africa. We don't have robotics and coding in Mitchells Plain. One day, I would like to bring robotics and coding to Mitchells Plain to inspire children to learn STEM skills. With all the hard work and dedication, I am hoping our team wins in Houston, Texas,” the aspiring scientist said.

His proud father, Fatum Adams expressed gratitude towards the Texpand team for the role they play in fuelling his son’s passion and welcoming him with open arms.

“The team’s dedication, hard work, and innovative spirit have brought Texpand this far in the FTC competition, and I have every confidence that they will make us proud in Houston,” Adams said.

The team now needs help in flying the South African flag high at the world championships.

The invitation to participate comes with no financial support and the team is solely responsible for raising R412,000 to cover entrance fees, accommodation, and flights.

“Texpand is inviting corporate companies and individuals to sponsor the team to make South Africa proud. While they are still looking for a lead sponsor to invest in both the teams’ World Championship goal and the outreach vision in the community, they are also calling on fellow Capetonians and South Africans to get behind them to make this dream come true,” Buckle said.

The team has launched their own Back-a-Buddy page to raise funds.

To donate on their Back-a-Buddy page go here or visit their website at

[email protected]