Shared from the 4/24/2019 Tri-Lakes Tribune eEdition

BEARbotics robotics team embarks on historic voyage to world robotics contest

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The Palmer Ridge High School robotics team, “BEARbotics,” includes 35 students from Palmer Ridge and Lewis-Palmer high schools. The team recently won a regional competition in Denver. They are pictured here after that win.

Photo courtesy of Mike Hinkle

On April 17-20 robotics teams from 40 countries descended on the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston for a worldwide competition. The BEARbotics robotics team, made up of Palmer Ridge and Lewis-Palmer high school students, has been active for eight years and this year took their first trip to the world finals.

Thirty years ago, Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway) started the “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” (FIRST) program to inspire students to get involved in fields related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). FIRST is a worldwide program that includes an annual robotics competition, and, in the first week of January, releases a game and game manual to about 3,500 robotics teams worldwide. The theme for this year’s game related to the 50 year anniversary of the moon walk, with Houston being an ideal location for the lunar theme.

The 2019 game was played on a 27-by-54-foot field where robots had 2 ½ minutes to install hatch panels on containers, or “obstacles,” and then place cargo/balls into the obstacles to score points. Fitting with the lunar theme, this year’s obstacles were cargo and rocket ships. The team scoring the most points on the six obstacles wins that round.

The first part of the game occurred during a “sandstorm,” when a curtain was put in front of the field and gamers had to manipulate the cargo via cameras on the robots. Then, the storm subsided and the curtain was removed, and the competition continued in full view for the teams. The robots were built on a 2 ½-by-2 ½-foot frame with bumpers and six to eight wheels. The superstructure included a manipulator to pick up cargo and place it in the obstacles.

The road to world finals began for BEARbotics March 21-23 at the Colorado First Robotics Regional at the University of Denver, where they competed with teams from Colorado and Utah. Teams form alliances, groups of three teams that work together in the competition. Alliances are formed to encourage “coopertition,” or the idea that students engage in a friendly game with gracious professionalism, cooperating and competing simultaneously to develop a game strategy. Individual teams get ranking points based on their performance, which determines the teams that advance.

BEARbotics was on the winning alliance in Denver and advanced to the regional event in Salt Lake City March 28-30. The team was the runner-up in Utah, which secured a place at the World FIRST Championship. For the world competition, the globe is divided in half for two separate events. Houston hosted 412 teams and Detroit hosted 200 teams. Teams are separated into subdivisions to begin the competition. March 20 was the big day in Houston for the quarterfinal, semifinal and final competition. BEARbotics finished up ranking 41 of 67 in their subdivision with a competition record of 6-4.

One goal of the event is to “share knowledge of the STEM fields, advancing student interest and building great leaders,” said Craig Johnson, who works at the Air Force Academy and is the FRC BEARbotics Team 4068 head coach. Palmer Ridge and Lewis-Palmer high school students combined to form two teams with 35 students, including 12 girls and 23 boys.The teams have officers that form a mini company with a CEO, CFO and CTO to help build leadership. Students can take what they learn and apply it to future career paths.

The trip to Houston was made possible with fundraising and community support to raise the $25,000 that allowed 29 students to make the trip. Monument Hill Kiwanis was a major sponsor and many businesses also made donations, including Ready Support Services, Colorado Engineering Inc., Lockheed Martin, Polaris Alpha and GE Johnson. The team also hosted a giveback dinner night at Rosie’s Diner with Rosie’s donating a portion of the proceeds to the effort.

The teams are led by students and they make all the decisions with guidance from coaches. Coaches also include Mike Hinkle, with more than 30 years of robotics experience, and Col. Tom Swoveland on active duty at the Air Force Academy.

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