Pinellas students' robotic gladiators are more than meets the eye

SEMINOLE — To the croon of MMMBop, the battle raged among the metallic combatants, their wheels whirling and arms jolting. In the crowded bleachers, banners waved and feet stomped. Mouths whistled, even yelped.

If in that moment the robots could have felt something — which certain corners of the Internet swear is possible — they would have been proud.

Of course, the real stars of Saturday's First Tech Challenge Robotics Pinellas League Championship — billed as the "Tech-Tacular of Seminole High School" — were the 16 teams of teenagers from area high schools who had built (and were controlling) the 18- by 18-inch contraptions.

During the first 30 seconds of each match, called the "autonomous period," the competitors received points if their preprogrammed robots performed the appropriate maneuvers. Those included placing blocks on designated areas of the floor and driving to the middle of the ring.

In the final two minutes, the teens used remote controls to execute other robotic tasks: pick up blocks, drop blocks in baskets, raise a flag, do a pull-up on a metal bar.

The championships, held in Seminole's gym, had the feel of any other athletic competition. Judges wore black-and-white referee uniforms and a husky commentator yelled out play-by-play. Teams had menacing names, like Gears of Fire from Palm Harbor University High School and Robo Warriors from Osceola High School.

Members of Aluminati, from Lakewood High School, painted eyeballs on their foreheads.

Serious Business, from Seminole, was part of the two-team alliance that prevailed in the match played as the Hanson hit boomed through the speakers.

Its members wore coats and ties.

"Because we're Serious Business," said junior Bryan Knapp, explaining their dapper attire.

"The end result is fun competition for them and hopefully a win and then state competition," said Nancy Winant, an event organizer and teacher at Seminole.

Teams that perform well in the state championship, held next month, will move on to a national competition later this year.

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at jcox@tampabay.com.

Pinellas students' robotic gladiators are more than meets the eye 01/11/14 [Last modified: Saturday, January 11, 2014 9:29pm]

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