INDIANAPOLIS — In two square rings, robots battled to scoop up and move gigantic yellow stars shaped like jacks.
Months of work, before and after school, to design, engineer and fine-tune the robotic creations culminated in the day-long VES Robotics competition Saturday in the Warren Central High School gymnasium, where 23 teams battled for the top spot in order to advance to the state competition. Local teams did not advance but fared well at the event, with one of New Palestine High School’s teams finishing runner-up and one of Greenfield-Central High School’s teams placing fourth out of the 23 teams.
The event brings students together during the school year not just for the thrill of competition but to get them excited as they learn about the concepts of engineering, organizers say.
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Saturday’s icy weather conditions narrowed the playing field considerably, with more than half of the 60 registered teams canceling, said Craig Harvey, Warren Central High School engineering and technology teacher.
Vex Robotics competitors are issued a list of specifications to design and build their robots, which they pit against other teams in a game-based engineering challenge.
This year’s challenge theme, “Starstruck,” challenged the builders to create a robot that can scoop up the stars and deposit them on the other side of the ring, Harvey said. The first 15 seconds of each match lets the robots operate autonomously, completing actions that have been pre-programmed; but during the remaining minute and 45 seconds, the team members take control, operating their robots to scoop and relocate stars and beach ball-sized bean bags.
Greenfield-Central brought two teams to the competition, though their robotics club boasts four teams overall, said Trent Taylor, department chair for engineering and technology. Meanwhile, three teams from New Palestine High School competed Saturday, said Dave Post, engineering team director at New Palestine.
Coaches and parents watched from the bleachers as the teams competed on the basketball court or honed their skills in practice rings in the mezzanine.
“That was awesome,” Post congratulated a team after its first match. “You guys are cooking!”
The competitors say Vex robotics is more than playing robot basketball – it teaches lifelong engineering skills.
Bryan Shaw, a New Palestine senior, has been a member of the robotics teams all four years of high school. He credits the club with helping him discover his career path.
“When I joined my freshman year, it put me on the path toward being an engineer,” he said.
Greenfield-Central junior Jonathan Barker saw teammate Cole Hoffman carrying a robot down the hall their freshman year, and it wasn’t long after that he was hooked, he said.
Though neither schools’ teams qualified for state at Saturday’s competition, their members and coaches haven’t given up hope. Several more Vex Robotics competitions offer chances to earn a trip to the finals before the March 5 state competition.
In addition to finishing fourth, Greenfield-Central’s “A” team received an excellence award for the combined results of its design notebook, skills competitions and elimination matches, Taylor said.
“It was a really good start to the season for them,” Taylor said.
Post and his teams had no complaints about the results of their matches, with two of the three teams making it to the semi-finals, and Dragon 2, a team of mostly sophomores, losing by just two points in the final elimination round.
“We’re very happy and very proud,” he said. “It was a good day for us.”