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High school students compete in robotics

High school students compete in robotics
Anthony Arroyo, a junior at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, tightens the motor on his robot before competing in The VEX Robotics Competition. (Andrea McDaniels / Baltimore Sun)

The object of the game for the 60 teams of high school students was to pick up stars and cubes and deposit them in their opponents' territory.

And they had to do it with robots they had built themselves.

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The students were participating Saturday in the VEX Robotics Competition, a statewide competition held at Dundalk High School and Sollers Point Technical High School. The event aims to expose students to engineering design while teaching them other skills, such as communication, team building and strategic development. Those who got to compete Saturday had won other local competitions.

"It's about engineering design, but it also teaches them many other valuable skills," said Katrina M. Hill, regional support manager for the Mid-Atlantic region of the Robotics, Education & Competition Foundation, which hosted the competition.

The teams spent the day playing rounds of a game called Starstruck. The highest- scoring teams advanced to the next rounds and then to the finals.

Using remote controls, the students drove robots that they designed, built and programmed over several weeks. They maneuvered their robots to pick up the stars and cubes, which they then dropped over a white fence onto their opponents' side. The more objects they got on the other side, the higher their points. Cubes were worth twice as many points as stars.

The game was designed by VEX Robotics Inc. and students used parts built by the company.

There are rules they have to follow when building their robots. For instance, the students can only use a certain number of batteries or sensors. The robots also have to be a certain size.

Chris Putnam, a Hereford Middle School teacher who helped organize Saturday's competition, said that the students end up building several versions of their robots to get them to do what they want.

"They keep building and testing and rebuilding," he said. "If they make it this far, they've worked hard. A lot of kids don't have the patience to keep it up."

The teams wore matching shirts emblazoned with names like Rebel Robotics. One team wore white dress shirts and bow ties.

The crowd was raucous at times as the competition occasionally became intense. One team would throw a star over, just to have their opponent throw one right back.

David Ahmed, a senior at Eastern Technical High School in Essex, said he has been interested in robotics since middle school and wants to one day study computer science. The robotics competition is preparing him for that, he said.

"They force you to think," he said. "They force you to be creative and come up with unconventional ideas."

Anthony Arroyo, a junior at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, said he has always liked to build things.

"I feel like this competition brought that to life," he said.

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Fifteen teams from Saturday's competition will go on to compete at the VEX Robotics World Championship. Towson High School won the Excellence Award, the day's top prize.

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