Robotic teams compete in Los Angeles

Orange haired cheerleaders and a big blue falcon were common sights during the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition for Science and Technology) competition held last weekend at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

CV High School and Clark Magnet High School joined 50 other teams in an intense and exciting robotics competition.

The FIRST competition had robots designed, built and controlled by the students. The robots then competed in a game that was part soccer, part NASCAR.

FIRST was founded in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen and is part of the NASA's Robotic Alliance Project. Each year the FIRST program challenges high school teams to build a robot that can play a specifically designed game. This year it required a robot to race around a tennis-court size track. In each 2 minute 15 second round, robots scored points by pushing and passing rubber balls called “trackballs” around the field and over a six-and-a-half foot overpass.

Robots had to operate by themselves for the first 15 seconds of each round. Students started the robots with a television-type remote control. After the 15 seconds, the students were allowed to manipulate the robots with the use of a control panel.

Clark Magnet started the rounds out strong, but at one point ran into a slight problem with their tower, which knocked the trackball off the overhead scaffold.

“We had this problem in San Diego,” said team member Antonello Wilby, a junior at Clark who was part of team that traveled south for a competition.

The teams have about 30 minute between rounds to repair anything that breaks or doesn't work. Clark's team busily repaired the tower problem and then they were ready for the next round.

“Strategy will be the key in this game,” Wilby said.

Crescenta Valley had its share of problems as well. During one match the robot reached its arms up to knock down a trackball, which it did, but then it got stuck. When the controllers tried to back it down it slowly, it very slowly tipped over and fell to the ground. Undaunted, the team prepared for the next match. This time they raised the arm, knocked the trackball off, almost tipped but recovered beautifully to continue and win the round.

Neither Clark nor Crescenta Valley ended in the top ten teams on Saturday, which meant they would not go onto the finals round unless they were chosen by another team as a partner.

That is when four members of the Crescenta Valley team decided to get noticed. Just like fans at a football game, they took their shirts off, painted “589!” — their team's call letters — on their chest and as the top teams looked into the crowd, they jumped and screamed “589.”

The team's strategy, and their high quality performance during the competition, got them noticed and they were chosen for the final round.

“I love you guys so much right now,” said Sarah Ferraro, one of the Crescenta Valley team managers.

The team competed in two rounds, but lost the championship.

“We were chosen by the team that came in eighth and our round was against the first place team,” Ferraro said. “We lost our matches but we were really happy to be in the finals.”

“You say there's always next year — we'll make it better,” Ferraro said.

But for Ferraro it is bittersweet. As a senior she has been accepted to both MIT and Caltech next year.

She said that she is a little sad but knew the team would continue like it always had.

Crescenta Valley and Clark's robots were shipped back to their schools and are on display at events like open house and during graduation ceremonies.

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