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Not your average short circuit

West Ranch fields team for robotics competition

Posted: April 1, 2009 1:44 a.m.
Updated: April 1, 2009 4:59 a.m.

Robotics team members and mentors Front from left: Nathan Kish, Marcus Kwak, Brandon Bussjaeger. Back from Left: Dennis Smalley, Rich Petras, Andy Bax, Garret Smalley, Ali El-Arabi, Tommy Peterson, Brandon Robbins, Richard Petras, Brian Lee, Patrick Allen, Anish Sawant, Choongil Lee, Gary Haggarty.

When it comes to building a remote-control robot, West Ranch High School students know it's all about teamwork.

"Teamwork is really important for success," said senior Annish Sawant, 18. "When you work together on something, it makes the end result that much stronger."

Sawant joined his three other teammates in competing at the FIRST Robotics Los Angeles Regional Competition on March 13 and March 14 at the Long Beach Convention Center.

West Ranch finished 13th out of 61 teams competing from places as far away as Chile, Brazil and Israel, as well as from all across the United States.

The competition required teams of four people to build a remote-control robot to compete with other qualifying entries from around the world.

"Think of it as a robotic sporting event," said Gary Haggart, West Ranch teacher and robotics adviser. "It's like watching a basketball game, but robots are playing instead of people."

The theme of the 18th annual competition was "Lunacy 2009" in honor of the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. Teams had to direct their robots to pick up "moon rocks" from the ground of the arena and launch them into the trailers of the other robots on the field.

To make the competition even more interesting, the arena floor was a slippery polymer surface, meant to simulate the effects of lunar gravity and potentially send robots into uncontrollable skids and spins.

"It's really fun because you watch as something that you and your teammates built from scratch has become real," said sophomore Ali El-Arabi, 15.

"I was looking at it and thought, ‘Wow, we built this with nothing but imagination and each other.' It's taught me a lot about working towards a goal with other people," El-Arabi said.

The students ran into a few challenges along the way. Aside from extensive fund-raising to be able to afford the competition's $6,000 entry fee, the rules require a maximum time of six weeks to create the idea for the robot, order its parts, build it and then test the creation out in a series of various activities.

"It's quite a time crunch and you feel like there just isn't enough time," Haggart said. "But it is truly inspiring to see how far these students can go in such a short amount of time. What they can achieve together is astonishing."

During the event, the robots compete, but the team members practice a different kind of sportsmanship.

"The slogan of the competition is ‘Gracious Professionalism,'" said sophomore Garret Smalley, 15. "This is to help us find a camaraderie and a bond between the teams that are competing and remind us that we are all working towards something great together."

Throughout the competition, opposing teams are encouraged to show mutual respect and extend a helping hand if necessary.

"It's not a regular kind of competition in this sense," said Sawant, the team captain of West Ranch's team. "Instead, FIRST is about mutual respect for others who are working towards a common goal with you - to work together in an active interest in the future of technology."

FIRST was founded on the values of inspiring interest in science and technology. The competition reflects these values in the way that it brings like-minded individuals together, even giving out a special award for the team that exhibits the most gracious and helpful behaviors towards other competing teams.

"I really believe in the values of FIRST," Smalley said. "Without young people who are interested in technology of the future, there won't be a future."

Each team member expressed their resolve to stay interested in the advancements of technology, while hoping to mentor and inspire others to gain an interest as well.

"The experience teaches you about the power you have as just one person, and how much greater that power is when you put it together with others," said El-Arabi.


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