Friday, February 11, 2011

Robotics team headed for ‘world’

High school squad to compete internationally

Express Staff Writer

The Wood River High School VEX Robotics Competition Team competed earlier this year at a regional meet at Utah State University. At top, wearing a cap, is team robot driver Matt Jensen. To his left is team captain and programmer John Bartoletta. Courtesy photos by Kevin Lupton

Last year "The Beast" went to Dallas; this year "The Predator" is going to Orlando.

The Beast and The Predator are the creations of the fledging Wood River High School VEX Robotics Competition Team, which has qualified for world competition in both of its two years of existence.

The competition, which tests robotic skills of machines built by students, is sponsored by VEX Robotics Design System, a company that designs and builds components to construct robots.

Kevin Lupton, Architectural and Mechanical Design Academy instructor at Wood River High, said there are 3,600 registered VEX teams throughout the world and only 320 of them qualify to go to world competition.

"The rest of them come from literally all over the world," he said.

Lupton, who mentors the local VEX team, will take seniors John Bartoletta, Matt Jensen and Kasey Kaminski to Orlando, Fla., for the world competition April 14-16.

Bartoletta is the team captain and programmer and Jensen and Kaminski are co-drivers and designers.

The three of them qualified for the world meet by winning a regional high school championship earlier this year at Utah State University in Logan.

Lupton also has a backup team that assisted at Utah State, comprised of juniors Corey Brown, Riley Heneghan and J.T. Sutton. Lupton described the backup group as a "practice squad in training" for next year's VEX competition.

The competition involves robotic skills to do such things as moving, climbing, lifting, placing and throwing. There are both preprogrammed and driver-operated events. Teams compete against other teams to see whose robot can perform the skills most successfully.

Lupton took his first VEX team and a robot named The Beast to Dallas, Texas, last year for the world competition. The team racked up a win-loss record of 3-5, an accomplishment that thrilled Lupton because his kids were beginners while the other teams had been competing for as long as seven years.

The competition last year involved throwing or launching Nerf-type balls over a small wall with points recorded for the most balls placed on an opponent's field. This year, the competition is different.

"The game is totally different every year," Lupton said, explaining that robots this year are required to place plastic donuts on posts and to remove other donuts placed by competitors.

"The point is to have more donuts on the post than your opponents," he said.

There's also a bonus feature, a small ladder in the center of the arena that robots can climb for extra points.

Lupton likened the rules of the competition to a basketball game.

"You need a robot that can play both offense and defense," he said. "You can have minor contact, but can be penalized for being too aggressive."

He said excessive penalties can lead to disqualification from competition.

Lupton said his team has been working long hours after school and on weekends and holidays to get this year's robot, named The Predator, prepped for competition.

He said the team has saved and raised $1,200 for the trip to Orlando but is looking for sponsors to help pay the additional $1,500 needed.

The team raised part of the money by building and selling small "hexbot" robots as stocking stuffers for Christmas.

Last year, Power Engineers and the Hailey Rotary Club sponsored the team for the trip to Dallas.

Terry Smith:

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