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Hampstead robot team returns for world championships

The members of the Hampstead-based Cubix3 competitive robotics team didn't expect to go very far this year. After all, they were a rookie team that got started in December, a full two months after other teams began work for the competition season, and those teams were only modifying existing robots, not building a new one from scratch.

In contrast with their expectations, Kaitlyn and Bryce Davey, 16 and 18 respectively, and their friend Josh Thomas, 16, won a Maryland-wide and an East Coast regional competition to become the only one of five Carroll County teams to compete at this year's FIRST Tech Challenge world championships, according to Jocelyn Davey, mother of Kaitlyn and Bryce and team mentor.

"We really expected to be finished by February," Jocelyn said. "We won are qualifiers and then the state championship and kept winning."

The team is part of the FIRST Tech Challenge a part of the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, an organization founded by Segway inventor Dean Kamen to promote engineering.

FIRST Tech Challenge teams construct and program an 18 by 18 by 18 inch robot in order to compete in completing certain tasks - which make up that year's "game" - for points on a 12 by 12 foot playing space, usually learning what tasks their robots will compete on by September, according to Josh. While other teams had existent robots they could alter for this year's game, which centered around scooping up plastic cubes and depositing them on a balanced arm, Cubix3 had to build a robot from scratch and program it for the competition.

"It definitely took a lot of time to learn," Josh said. "I pretty much spent all of December learning to program it ... the physicalities of it and the logic of how we wanted it to perform."

Bryce and Kaitlyn were not completely inexperienced with robotics, having participated in VEX, another competitive robotics league a few years ago, while Josh had experience programming computers in the JAVA programming language. Together, the three teens developed an efficient division of labor, with the Davey's doing the physical engineering while Josh handled the programming, while in competition Josh and Bryce would drive the robot and Kaitlyn would coach them on their maneuvers.

"At the competition day, you have two drivers, one drives the base and one drives the arms and I tell them the overview," Kaitlyn said. "The game is very strategic. I like logic and that's more my part of the robot, logic and strategy."

The world competition was held from April 23 to 26 in St. Louis, Mo., where Cubix3 competed with 128 different teams in an environment Josh described as definitely competitive, but amazingly open and cooperative as well.

"A lot of the teams were exchanging how our robots worked and how we solved certain issues," he said. "There was a real willingness by everyone to help one another. Everybody had an open door, if you needed help with something, you could pretty much go to any team and they would try to help you."

Cubix3 was certainly competitive, making it all the way to the semi-finals and finishing seventh overall, according to Jocelyn.

They were one of only five FIRST Tech Challenge teams from Maryland to make it to the world championship, according to Bill Duncan, regional director of Maryland FIRST.

"We're especially proud of the performance of Maryland's FIRST Tech Challenge teams at the FIRST Championship this year," he said. "Cubix3 was the highest ranked Maryland FIRST Tech Challenge team after the qualification rounds."

After the championship, the team assembled their robot at Wesley United Methodist Church in Hampstead on April 30, dissecting their performance in the competition and looking at minor tweaks they could make to improve their robot.

"We wanted to work on the robot right away, while the competition was still fresh in our minds," Kaitlyn said.

The tasks for next year's game will not be released until September and beginning qualifying matches will not begin until December, so for the time being, Cubix3 will be practicing and looking for ways to engage with the community, according to Jocelyn.

"As a fundraiser, we want to teach a small robotic camp this summer," she said. "It's a good way to earn money for the team and teaching others is a good way for them to advance their knowledge."

Anyone interested in learning more about the team, booking them for a demonstration or inquiring about starting a team of their own should go to the Cubix3 facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/FTCTeamCubix3, according to Jocelyn, who said they would be happy to help.

All three teens on the team plan on doing something with engineering in the future: Bryce hopes to study mechanical engineering and follow his interest in improving the efficiency of assembly lines, while Kaitlyn is more interested in chemical engineering or food science. Josh hopes to pursue a degree in electrical engineering and said that his experience with the robotics team has been enlightening and inspiring for his career plans.

"It's certainly showed me what the field is really like. It really showed by the effort involved," he said. "I would definitely say that it was very, very informative and anyone who is considering getting into a similar field should do something like this."

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