Alaska schools compete in a robot rumble

Ian Larsen/Sun Star Reporter
March 6, 2012

At the second day of the 2012 Alaska FIRST State Robotics Championship, on March 3, Lathrop senior Annie Sisson (left) and UAF student Evan Mathers, do some last minute checks on their robot before sending it into the competition ring. Erin McGroarty/Sun Star

It doesn’t take an athletic event to draw a large crowd at the UAF Patty Center. On March 4, the Patty Center was packed with students and spectators from all over the state who came to UAF to duke it out Rock ’em Sock ’em Robot style in the Alaska FIRST State Robotic Championship. FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. The non-profit was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen to foster an appreciation of science and technology among young people, according to the group’s website.

Approximately fifty teams, ranging from grades 7-12, came from across the state to join in the spirit of robot competition.

Even Pohrtal, the Division II world championship team from Lathrop High School, competed in this year’s state competition. Lathrop’s FIRST robotics team  won the Idaho State FTC Championship in 2011, which allowed the team to compete in the world Championship.

In the tournament teams consisting of two robots battle each other in an arena ring. The team who gained the most points in the match was declared the winner.

The arena contained crates filled with racquet balls, large cardboard tubes and large bouncy balls. Teams were allowed to use their robots in creative ways to score points, such as knocking down crates, returning a bouncy ball to the teams’ starting zone, or picking up baskets and filling them with racquet balls.

Each match consisted of three rounds. In each round there were multiple phases, including a 30-second placement time and two two-minute competition rounds. In the two-minute rounds, two of the team members drove the robots to lead their teams to victory.

Many of the teams robots had a robot to lift baskets, and one to carry the “bowling balls” back to the bases. Among the sea of metal there were a couple of robots that stood out from the crowd. One robot used a crane to lift instead of two arm-like mechanisms. The robot Schrödinger’s Hat resembled a cherry picker.

While most of the robots scored their points in the conventional way of knocking over and picking up baskets, the Fairbanks-based Ryan Middle School team Schrödinger’s Hat had the crowd in an uproar when they won their match by having their robot scoop up a basket and lift it 17 feet in the air.

The team has worked on the robot since September, putting the most effort in during the final month before the competition, the team said.

Flint Hills Resources and the UAF College of Engineering and Mines sponsor this event to encourage upcoming engineers to show the community their genius, CEM recruitment coordinator Ryan Smith said in an email.

Out of all the competitors, there will be one winner from each of the three FIRST competition brackets – the Lego League for grades 7-9, the Tech Challenge for grades 10-11, and Robotics for grades 11-12.

These winners will be invited to the World FIRST Championship Competition along with Team Pohrtal. The championship will be in Saint Louis, MS in late April.

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