Homeschooled teens place 4th at RoboBoat competition

By Saul Saenz , Reporter
Last Updated: Sunday, July 19, 2015, 9:43 AM EDT

It may be hard for most to believe that what a couple of teens learned at home would allow them to take on some of the nation's top colleges in a robotics competition but they did just that, even beating the majority of those schools and they are only 14 and 15 years old.

The two members of the Daytona Beach Homeschoolers say some of those colleges they beat are now trying to recruit them.

Abigail Butka, 14, and her teammate, Nick Serle, 15, went into the 8th Annual International RoboBoat Competition hopeful, overwhelmed and understaffed.

The homeschooled teens built a robo boat called the S.S. Minnow with parts they found online.

“That was actually kinda intimidating. Whys that? Well they had more experience than us, they had full time programmers, which we did not have, they had just more resources than we had," said Butka.

It's a humbling experience," said Serle.

It was humbling for the victorious and the defeated.

The two teens, who don't even attend college, competed against 16 university teams and they came in fourth beating both Villanova University and the University of Florida and bringing home a $2,500 check.

Abigail's father Brian Butka.is their coach and advisor.  He is also an Embry Riddle University electrical engineer professor.

"There were two students on this team. Some of the teams had up to 30 people," said Brian Butka.

Embry Riddle, who sponsored the pair, took first in the competition followed by Florida Atlantic University, the University of Michigan, and the teens.

Nick sums up how he and Abigail were able to take on University teams with all their resources and complicated computerized robots and beat them.

"If you have a complicated system there's more things to de-bug more things to take out of. And with our system it’s so simple it takes a short amount of time to see what’s the problem,” said Serle.

Nick and Abby already know what they're going to do with this check. They are going take the proceeds and buy more materials for their next competition."

The teen’s future looks bright.

“They already have companies talking to them wanting to give them internships. Except they're just not old enough," said  Brian Butka

As for those colleges Abigail and Nick beat.

"Some of the colleges actually asked us if we would be interested in going on a tour of their facilities," said Abigail.

Adding to the old adage, if you can't beat them, enroll them.