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High School Programmers Pilot Robots to Success in UM Competition

Members of the Mechanical Master Minds of Long Beach High School (left, in maroon shirts) challenge rival team Blue Crew from HESWM in Summit at the sixth annual Mississippi FIRST Tech Robotics Competition held at the University of Mississippi. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communication
After a grueling six-month journey, three high school teams bested 21 others to win top honors in Mississippi’s sixth annual FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competition Saturday (Feb. 17) at the University of Mississippi.
Hosted by the UM Center for Mathematics and Science Education, the event began with judging at 7 a.m. in Tad Smith Coliseum. Public events started at 10 a.m., and the competition ran through 5 p.m.
Teams of students, ranging from seventh to 12th grades, came from across the state to pilot their robots with the hopes of qualifying for FIRST’s South Super Regional competition, coming up March 8-10 in Athens, Georgia.
This year’s game was dubbed Relic Recovery. In the game, four robots competed on a 12-by-12-foot field to score the most points by placing “glyphs,” 6-inch foam blocks, into holders dubbed “Cryptoboxes,” solving a cipher pattern, recovering a “lost relic” and then balancing on top of a platform at the end of each match.
“Blue Crew” from the Home Educators of Southwest Mississippi in Summit won the Rockwell Collins Innovative Award and a Winning Alliance Award. “Wait for It” from Rankin Robotics took home the first-place Inspire Award and a Winning Alliance Award. “Challenge Accepted” from Northwest Mississippi Robotics received the Connect Award and the second-place Inspire Award. All three teams advance to the regional contest.
“What a day and a great event,” said Mannie Lowe, FIRST program manager at the CMSE. “Twenty-four teams competed hard and did very well. This event would not have been possible without the dedicated hard work of all of our volunteers from near and far.
“Thank you to all the wonderful students, teams, coaches and mentors, parents and supporters for being so great. Congratulations to everyone.”
Winners at next month’s regional competition advance to the world championship April 18-21 in Houston, Texas.
Other teams and their honors include Teen Tech of Vicksburg, Judges Award; Benton Bots 2.0 of NCMS Robotics in Potts Camp, Control Award and Finalist Alliance; NEKOS of Hartfield Academy in Flowood. Motivate Award; Simpson County Future Engineers – Lighthouse Community Development, Design Award; Techno Warriors Advance of Central Mississippi Robotics, Think Award; Techno Cats of Bogue Chitto Attendance Center and Exotic Robotics of Madison Ridgeland Academy, Finalist Alliance; and Mechanical Master Minds of Long Beach High School, Winning Alliance.
The For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST, nonprofit organization was founded 26 years ago by inventor Dean Kaman in an effort to build interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
Competing teams design and build their own robots, keep an engineer’s notebook and do some kind of outreach to promote STEM careers. The robots can be built out of any material as long as teams follow regulation rules. In the past, some teams have built robots using PVC pipe, wood and aluminum.
Each match played for 2 minutes and 30 seconds. For the first 30 seconds, the robots operated autonomously, and students took control of the robots using handheld controllers for the final 2 minutes.
In the past, Mississippi teams have done well at FIRST Super Regional competitions. In 2016, a Mississippi team won the Inspire Award, the highest given in the competition. Last year, “Wait for It” from Pearl won the World Championship.
Some 5,000 teams participate worldwide, and the program has grown tremendously in Mississippi, where only four teams took part in the challenge five years ago, Lowe said.
Students began designing and building their robots in September when the theme was announced.

By Edwin B. Smith

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