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Alaska high schoolers put their brains to the test in statewide robotics competition

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Posted: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 2:12 am | Updated: 1:49 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

FAIRBANKS — Last Saturday, 40 high school teams from across the state crowded the University of Alaska Fairbanks Patty Center gym.

Throughout the gym, wrestling arena-style lighting was rigged and a curtain separated the halves of the floor. On one side of the curtain, teams of students hurriedly made repairs and checked standings. On the other side, teams’ robots competed for glory.

It was the annual For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology High School Robotics Championships. The tournament was sponsored by Flint Hills Resouces, and the FIRST Tech Challenge program is sponsored by BP.

FIRST is a worldwide nonprofit organization that promotes science and technology learning. The FIRST Tech Challenge is for teams of high school

students that design programmable robots from a kit provided by FIRST.

The competition is called “Get Over It.” On a 12-foot-wide by 12-foot-long mat, four teams and their respective robots try to earn points by directing their robots around the mat. If the robot can dispense batons into designated goals, it scores. If the robots can park on ramps or balance on a seesaw-like bridge, they score again.

Complicated rules and numerous ways to earn points makes the student competition even more impressive.

In the final match of Saturday’s qualifying round (followed by elimination matches) on Saturday, Effie Kokrine Charter School students allied with friends from Lathrop High School. In the last seconds of the match, the allied teams tried to park their robots so they balanced on the seesaw bridges.

The Effie Kokrine “Illuminati” team and the Lathrop “4-hour Bot” team managed to park both their robots and two moveable goals on a balanced bridge.

When the time was up, the teams and bystanders erupted with applause. The balancing act had earned them 40 points and hadn’t been seen all day.

“It was the only time that happened in that competition,” Effie Kokrine coach and NASA funded teacher Jeremy Nicoll said. “The four (components balanced) was not seen before or after. It was incredible.”

Even more impressive was that the Illuminati team had spent just more than three weeks on building their robot and ended up in third place of 40 after the qualifying round.

Unfortunately, the team didn’t make it past the first round in eliminations because of technological problems.

Nicoll said his team owed a lot of thanks to Lathrop teacher Larry Ehnert.

Ehnert spent time helping many teams before the competition began.

There were 12 Lathrop teams, and Nicoll said Ehnert coached about six of them. Ehnert won the Adult Mentor Award for his efforts.

“The truth is — it’s not about the robot, it’s about the process,” head volunteer referee Dave Patterson said.

Patterson has been involved with Alaska’s FIRST Tech Challenge for more than 11 years.

He emphasized that students had to start with a problem and come up with a solution while working together.

They had to solve computer problems, design and program their robots before competing.

Three teams including the Inspire Award winner, the Winning Alliance captain and the first chosen to be on the winning alliance will travel to St. Louis this year for the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championship Event.

Contact reporter Reba Lean at 459-7523.

Inspire Award: #3705, Team ICY, from Lathrop High School Robotics Club (Fairbanks)

Runners up: #3081, Trial and Error, from Thunder Mountain High School (Juneau), #3360, Team Caffeine, from East Anchorage High School (Anchorage)

Motivate Award: #3492, Team Zip Tie, from East Anchorage High School (Anchorage)

Runners up: #3825, Mechalynx, from Dimond High School (Anchorage), #4538, SAHS Anchorage, from South Anchorange High School (Anchorage)

Connect Award: #3081, Trial and Error, from Thunder Mountain High School (Juneau)

Runners up: #3360, Team Caffeine, from East Anchorage High School (Anchorage), #4539, SAHS Robotics, from South Anchorage High School (Anchorage)

PTC Design Award: #3826, Crimson Omega, Bartlett High School (Anchorage)

Runners up: #3705, Team ICY, from Lathrop High School Robotics Club (Fairbanks), #4613, LHS Rookie 7, from Lathrop High School (Fairbanks)

Rockwell Collins Innovate Award: #3360, Team Caffeine, from East Anchorage High School (Anchorage)

Runners up: #4166, Iron Braves, from Mt. Edgecumbe High School (Sitka), #3500, Team Indecision, from Akiuk Memorial School (Kasigluk)

Think Award: Team #3500, Team Indecision, from Akiuk Memorial School (Kasigluk)

Runners up: #3705, Team ICY, from Lathrop High School Robotics Club (Fairbanks), #3081, Trial and Error, from Thunder Mountain High School (Juneau)

Winning Alliance: Teams 3826 (Crimson Omega from Bartlett High in Anchorage), 4539 (SAHS Robotics from South Anchorage High School) and 4610 (LHS Rookie 4 from Lathrop High School)

Finalist Alliance: Teams 3492 (Team Zip Tie from East Anchorage High School), 3360 (Team Caffeine from East Anchorage High School) and 4431 (Service FTW from Service High School in Anchorage

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