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First time is the charm: Brandeis rookie team earns trip to world robotics championship
March 6, 2011

By Sarah Mills, San Antonio Express-News

Judging by all the cheers, painted faces, pompoms and team mascots, it seemed as if the 1,400 high school students at the Convention Center were supporting their favorite football team - but they weren't.

Instead, they were watching robots zigzag across a small court to collect inflatable rings, then hang them on poles to score points at the FIRST - For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology - Alamo Regional Robotics Competition on Saturday.

The robots were controlled by high school students from Texas, Arkansas and Mexico who worked in teams to build the machines in six weeks with guidance from mentors.
Teams form three-team alliances, meaning each alliance has three robots on the court.

Allies for the final rounds are chosen by teams that scored high in seeding matches held Friday, which means a low-scoring team may still advance.

That's how the rookie Bronc Botz team from Brandeis High School ended up sharing the regional championship with teams from Greenville and Arkansas.

"We didn't expect to win," said team member Jonas Fuglaas, who drove the team's robot. "But the (Greenville) Robowranglers picked us to compete with them for our defense abilities."

The Bronc Botz team's job in the alliance was to block opposing robots from scoring.

"We're a six-wheeled tank," said Robert Voorhis, 16, a Bronc Botz teammate.

Apart from earning a trip to St. Louis, the team received a Rookie Inspiration Award and a design award.
Going to the world championship, the team has a simple mission, said Fuglaas: "To have fun and do what we do best - defense."

Teams from South San High School, the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics Academy at Lee High School and the Lackland Independent School District also were finalists, but did not make it to the last round.

The FIRST Alamo Region's event is the second-largest robotics competition in the U.S., impressive considering the region formed just last year, said regional board Chairman Mauli Agrawal.

"I enjoy seeing the kids who are watching the teams go crazy for something that is about science, engineering and technology instead of a pop star," said Agrawal, who also is the dean of engineering at the University of Texas at San Antonio. "Our country needs kids like these. They are the ones who will invent things that will change us forever."

Before the region formed, the closest competitions were in Houston or Dallas.

Three teams from each of the 58 regionals will compete at the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championship in St. Louis on April 27.

Through the competition, students can win awards for engineering excellence, creativity, design and team spirit, among others. Also, more than $14 million in scholarships will be handed out.

Although winning is nice, Alamo Region director Patrick Felty said all participants gain valuable skills such as project management, design and engineering concepts, and, of course, teamwork.

"Through the event they learn gracious professionalism. Creating technology is not a solo event," Felty said. "You'll see them competing like crazy on the field, but off the field they are out there helping each other with the robots."


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