In the fall of 2008, faculty member, Michael Couvillon, and Jesuit alumnus, Steve Alaniz ’71, started FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) team 2848, which the students quickly dubbed, “The All Sparks.” The team began as an activity for the engineering club and soon became the club’s sole focus. The club prepared for the 2009 spring season by creating an internal competition for the prospective team members. Called the “Death Star Challenge,” students were asked to create robotic catapults to launch tennis balls into a death star target. These robots were constructed in Couvillon and Alaniz's garages. By the beginning of the season, the team moved had moved to campus in a shared space with the music department. The 2009 FRC season was a huge success. The team earned a spot at the FIRST World Championships in Atlanta by winning the Dallas Regional Rookie All-Star Award. The challenges faced at the Championships fostered the resolve to work even harder and continue to compete in FIRST. In the following years, the team continued to grow in size, quality, and support from the School.
During the 2009-10 school year the team competed in VEX Robotics Competition to help prepare students for the FRC season, a competition that remained a part of for the next four years. To meet the needs of the team's growth, they moved to Valley View Mall and occupied a storefront that was previously a Famous Footwear. The sign above the door said, "Come back soon, the shoes already miss you." The students changed the word "shoes" to robots" and a picture of that sign still hangs above the door to the current lab at the School.
The fall of 2010 marked the first year that seniors in the program could elect to serve as a robotics coach in underprivileged schools as part of their community service requirements. The team has served in two different schools since then and hosted two qualifying tournaments for FIRST Lego League. We continue to serve at Saint Mary of Carmel and look to expand the service component of the program.
The summer of 2011 marked the first project that was fully designed in CAD and student led. Members of the graduating class of 2012 designed and built a robotic t-shirt canon to be used at football games and corporate events. The student leadership also expanded our sponsor base by reaching out to a local sheet metal company and machine shop.
By the summer of 2012 the team returned to campus after three seasons at its mall location. After a year splitting time and resources between two classrooms, they moved to a dedicated space on the ground floor in the former weight room of the Terry Center.
We began appearing at the MAGIS Golf Classic in the fall of 2012 after students helped develop a fitting for the t-shirt canon that could shoot golf balls for the participants from the tee box on a par 4.
In the summer of 2013, the All Sparks won the Texas Robot Roundup, which served as the unofficial Texas state championship. In the fall of 2013, the team developed a golf robot that could swing a club and tee off for golfers at the MAGIS.
The 2014 FRC season was highlighted by being on the winning alliance at the FIRST World Championships in St. Louis.
In the fall of 2014, the team expanded to also compete in FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) to help develop its program members. This component of the program continues to grow and is developing into the junior varsity level of the program. It provides the training and experience required for the varsity level of our program, FRC. The year was filled with tremendous opportunities for outreach. The team presented a talk about teamwork at TEDxSMU and TEDxSMU kids, students wrote a six-week blog for Make Magazine, and we developed an exhibit at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science that features the 2014 world champion robot.
The following seasons have been marked by rapid growth and development of both the program and team facility. The program currently runs year round and looks to continue its growth and success.