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Webb students prepare for robot cometition

“Spider Legs,” “Keepers,” “Ringers,” “Spoilers,” “The Rack,” – they sound like parts of a medieval-themed computer war game, but instead they’re all part of a high-tech, three-dimensional game of tic-tac-toe that is the challenge facing Webb School of Knoxville’s robotics team at this year’s FIRST Peachtree Regional robotics competition.

Webb Team No. 1466 will be among the 45 high school robotics teams to compete in the Peachtree contest, which takes place March 15-17, in Duluth, Ga., and will be one of only two teams representing Tennessee. Winners from the Peachtree competition and 30-plus other regional contests from across the nation and abroad will go on to compete at the 2007 FIRST Championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga., April 12-14.

FIRST – For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology – is an annual competition that helps students discover the rewards and excitement of science, engineering, technology and math. More than 32,000 high school students on 1,300 teams from Brazil, Canada, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and for the first time, every state in the United States, are participating in this year’s competition.

At the beginning of January, all participating FIRST teams receive a common inventory of parts and a manual of game rules and robot design regulations. Working with their adult mentors, students have just six weeks to design, prototype, build, program and test their robots to compete in vigorous tournament play against other robots.

For this year’s challenge, called “Rack ‘N Roll,” robots are required to hang inflated swimming tubes on the pegs or “Spider Legs,” of a 10-foot-high structure called “The Rack,” set up in the middle of a 54-foot-by-26-foot-8-inch playing field. During the 2-minute-and-15-second match, robots run in autonomous mode for the first 15 seconds then are driver controlled for the rest of the match. During the whole time, robots attempt to score points by placing “Keeper” and “Ringer” tubes on the spider legs while avoiding the “Spoiler” tubes that can be placed over the “Ringers.” The number of consecutive “Ringers” and “Keepers” in a column or row scores points exponentially. Teams are paired with two other teams or “alliance partners,” which means that six robots are on the playing field at one time. Alliances score bonus points, if, at the end of the match, their robots are in their home zone and have been lifted off the floor four inches or more by another robot before the final buzzer sounds.

“We’ve nicknamed the platform the ‘solar array,’” said David Pierce, Webb Upper School math teacher and robotics team faculty advisor, “because it reminds you of the things you see on space shuttles or the solar panels you see on the Hubble Space Telescope. It has absolutely nothing to do with the sun,” Pierce chuckles, “but we still call it the ‘solar array.’”

This year’s Webb robotics team members include Webb senior Mike Rice; juniors Sam Bacon, Will Bellingrath, Henry Neilson and Max Smith; sophomores Matthew Adams, Reyner Crosby, Alec Lee, Jonathan Liu, Neel Madhukar, and Emily Simonds; and eighth-grader Ted Primka.


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