The Irvine robotics team Flying Cheese — a pairing of Ezra Wang and Kenneth Zhang — is once again on top of the robotics world. This year, the team repeated as a division champion in the elementary division at the 2023 VEX-IQ world robotics competition in Dallas.
To win, the pair had to design, build and code a robot to complete a set of specific tasks in 60 seconds. The course this year involved collecting plastic discs from different containers around the game board and and then disgorging the discs into a target area of the board.
Ezra and Kenneth, who both attend Turtle Rock Elementary School, spent a year developing and honing their robot, as they competed first at the county level, then state and national, and finally at the world championship.
“We ran the game thousands of times by the time we got to the world finals,” Ezra said, troubleshooting the whole way.
Ezra, who does the coding in Python and a VEX IQ block coding language, said that diagnosing and fixing problems along the way can be challenging, because there could be flaws in the code or flaws in the physical engineering of the robot. Is it a bug? Or, is it the motors being out of sync?
Because the robotics world is cooperative as well as competitive, Flying Cheese has a channel on YouTube where they post videos of their work in progress, offering tips and workarounds and asking for other teams’ advice when they’re stuck.
Ezra said he and Kenneth met at a park “just playing nerf guns” and discovered they both were into robotics. They decided to form a team, and the rest is VEX-IQ history.
Next year, Kenneth, who is a year older than Ezra, will have aged-out of the elementary division so Ezra’s younger brother Ethan will be picking up his controller. The 2023-2024 game was unveiled last month and the pair have already designed a first prototype on the way to a hoped-for three-peat.
As for the name Flying Cheese, Ezra says, “A long time ago, I was doing soccer and we played a real good team called Flying Feet and I just got the inspiration. It’s kind of silly, but I’m a silly person.”
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