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West Valley City • It's not about winning it's about learning. And, OK, the teamwork and fun, too.
The Maverik Center was crazy with excitement Saturday as 53 high school teams from 11 states and Canada went robot-to-robot in the sixth annual Utah Regional FIRST Robotics competition.
The high school teams built their robots specifically for this year's event that required sorting and stacking bins for recyclables. Teams scored points during 2 1/2 minute rounds by moving the bins to a specific location and stacking them. The more bins in the zone, the higher the score.
Crowds in the stands cheered for their teams as they frantically worked robots to move and stack bins without toppling them.
During a break, the audience sang along to "Sweet Caroline."
Among the teams competing in the quarter finals Saturday was the Ravens Robots club from Sandy's Waterford School.
Elizabeth Sampson, 18, is a senior and helped build the bot they call Totm.
"I've always been interested in engineering," she said. "Next year, I'm going to college to study mechanical engineering."
The contest capped an intense six weeks for teams designing, building, programming and testing robots built from kits but without instructions.
Camryn Thompson, 15, is a freshman at Stansbury High School. She joined the Tooele County robotics team because it seemed fun and she wants to be a mining engineer someday.
Their robot, Jarvis, had a rough morning and was eliminated. But Thompson took it in stride.
"This is our first year," she said. "So, that was pretty good."
Mark Minor, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Utah, created the competition six years ago.
"I wanted to give the youth in our country the experience of how fun engineering can be," he said.
Robots are a big pull to get students into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs, Minor noted. But the competition is more than that.
"It's about getting kids to dream big," he said. "They learn there is never enough time or money but they can accomplish great things if they work as a team."
Eli Belnap, 17, a junior at American Fork High School, is in his second year with the his school's team. "I heard our school had a robotics club and I've been here ever since," he said. "I like taking your ideas and making them a reality. And, you can go back and improve things."
One of the best teams at the Utah competition was the Cryptonites from Katy, Texas, near Houston.
They were dressed in dark outfits with day-glow green ties and accessories including green, spiky hair.
Abhishek Routray is a 17-year-old senior who is in his fourth year in the club.
He wants to be an engineer for NASA.
The Cryptonites spend hours modifying and re-modifying their robot and practicing stacking bins, Routray explained. "That's why we didn't knock any over and can stack them high."
Today, the Maverik Center. Tomorrow, the moon.