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Competition puts students, robots to the test

Regional event draws schools from around Colorado


Robots race at each other in a metallic frenzy, scooping up balls, gears and sprockets as quickly as they can.

The collected parts are brought back to their stations and the fuel is loaded before the propellers can start to turn.

“The idea is that they’re trying to get their steamship to take off,” said William Schneider, president of Colorado FIRST Robotics. “The more skilled robots will shoot 60 balls up into the top netting. It’s real fun to watch those.”

The Colorado regional of the three-day, national FIRST Robotics Competition took place at the University of Denver March 23-25 and pitted students from across Colorado in a robot-building contest that matches their creations in different games. FIRST For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — is a nonprofit group based in New Hampshire that works to spark youths’ interest in science and technology.

Teams advance in the tournament, with winners gaining a place at the national competition in Houston later this year.

Each team has six weeks to build their robot and the game they play is different every year.

Teams start with kits of basic parts, but are allowed the freedom to customize.

“A senior engineer could play with it for years,” Schneider said on the second day of the competition. “It’s like the best erector set ever.”

Licia Lamb, a senior from the team representing STEM High and Academy in Highlands Ranch, said her team spent 12 weeks designing, testing and building their robot.

“I like that our students are the ones doing it,” said Lamb, who was competing in her sixth FIRST robotics competition. “There’s no mentors. It’s students learning and students doing.”

In between rounds of competition, the robots and their engineers spent their time in the pits.

“Think of it like NASCAR,” Lamb said. “This is our maintenance area.”

Austin Briggs, a senior from the team representing Legacy High School in Broomfield, said he likes that the competition allows for creativity.

“It’s such a complex game, we really wanted to boil it down to a simple solution to that,” Briggs said.

Legacy focused on gear intake.

“We did a lot of geometry testing on that to make sure the lever (for gears) is at the right angle,” Briggs said.

Legacy played 12 practice matches the first day and then came back to the pits to make adjustments before the start of competition.

“That’s a huge thing with this competition,” Briggs said. “You recognize an issue that you have and you come up with the solution. It’s a really fast-paced environment.”


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