County students to pit robots vs. robots on court

SEATTLE — There was no Sounders game or concert at the CenturyLink Event Center on Thursday, but it was still crowded.

Dozens of booths were filled with high school students ratcheting bolts and making last-minutes changes to their aluminium and wooden robots. Meanwhile, other students waited at the stands next to two basketball courts, some of them dressed as team mascots.

It was the kick-off of the three-day Rebound Rumble, a competition for student-built robots designed to play basketball.

Teams came from all around the state, including Snohomish and Island county schools. Local teams came from Lynnwood, Henry M. Jackson, Glacier Peak, Kamiak, Edmonds-Woodway, Mountlake Terrace, Arlington, Marysville Arts and Technology, Oak Harbor, Sno-Isle TECH Skills Center, and the 4-H Youth Development program from the WSU extension.

The event was organized by the national nonprofit For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, which aims to encourage school-age children to pursue careers in engineering, science and math.

No games were played on Thursday. Most of the kids were working on last-minutes changes to either make their robots smaller, lighter or more powerful.

The team from Glacier Peak High School finished early, by passing the safety and weight inspections.

Taylor Buffum, 17, said he feels good that his team’s robot passed. He now will wait after each match to repair the robot if needed.

“I’m a little nervous,” the Glacier Peak senior said. “I hope we do well.”

After the Marysville Arts and Technology robot passed its safety test, freshman Kylie Hazelett expressed how proud she was of her work.

“I am bewildered how nice it looks, and it works too,” the 15-year-old Kylie said.

In total, there are about 2,500 students participating in the event from schools in Washington, Oregon, California, Montana and even from Turkey and Mexico.

Each of the 90 teams is made up of roughly 30 members plus mentors and coaches.

Rebound Rumble is the culmination of hundreds of work hours spent in designing and building robots in just six weeks.

Jackson High School senior Tyler Hittle, 17, likes the competition because it allows him to use what he learns in school in a practical manner.

“It makes the learning process fun,” Tyler said. “What other chances there are to do work on a robot, go to an event for three days, party like crazy and hope the robot doesn’t fall apart?”

The team Royal Robotics, which includes students from Lynnwood High School and from other schools in the Edmonds School District, worked from three to seven days a week. Sometimes, on weekends, they worked until 8 p.m.

“Students get very excited. They end up pestering me to have more hours,” coach Bradley Nelson said. “The committed ones want this to be perfect.”

The goal on Thursday was to get the robot qualified by organizers. The real competition starts today.

“This is a cross of a rock concert and a sports event,” said Michael Campbell, regional director for U.S. FIRST in Washington state.

Every team received a basic robot construction kit in January. They then had six weeks to build and customize it, so the robot is able to move through obstacles, pick up and shoot basketballs to score.

Since one robot is not enough to make a team, three schools make what is known as an alliance, and compete against three other schools.

Teams compete in a qualifying round Friday and Saturday morning. Each team is ranked by its individual scores. On Saturday, the top eight teams will pick two partners to finish the competition with.

The 24 teams then compete in an elimination bracket to decide the winners. They will then advance to the national competition to be held late April in St. Louis, Mo.

Every participant is eligible to receive a piece of the $14 million in scholarships FIRST offers nationwide, Campbell said.

“This is not about winning. This is about inspiring kids,” Campbell said.

Most of participants were already interested in engineering and science when they joined their prospective teams. Other students joined to just do something different.

Team FrostByte of Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center in Everett, has students from different areas of expertise, including business, engineering and cosmetology.

“We have a little bit of everything,” lead adviser Karen Coulombe said. “It is not the stereotypical nerd student with a Rubik’s cube. We have artists creating a robot.”

Team member Henry Lauer, 18, worked on the electrical wiring. He says joining the team broadened his views of math and science.

“They were not my favorite subjects until I joined this class,” he said. “Now I love those subjects.”

Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; adominguez@ heraldnet.com.

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