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Robots compete in Richmond

Published 11:15pm Monday, March 18, 2013

By Michael Schuster

Capital News Service

High school students from Chesterfield, Henrico and Prince William counties and from the cities of Franklin and Martinsville will advance to the FIRST World Robotics Championship after winning a regional competition this past weekend.

Suffolk students also participated in the competition.

During a two-day tournament that tested their teamwork and ingenuity, six teams won the right to compete at the world championship in St. Louis on April 24-27. More than 60 schools from Virginia and five other Eastern states packed the Stuart C. Siegel Center for the FIRST Robotics Competition Virginia Regional.

Sponsored by a nonprofit called FIRST (“For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”), the regional tournament featured handmade robots that could climb pyramids, throw Frisbees and overcome other challenges. Judges graded each team based on innovation, science, speed, precision and technology.

The robotics competition, held at the Siegel Center for the 14th year, drew more than 3,000 students, supporters and spectators.

For Antonio Sorbello, a junior from Churchland High School in Portsmouth, an interest in robotics and hanging out with friends quickly developed into a second family.

“I’ve been in robotics for three years now. What inspired me to go into robotics was basically all my friends were in it, and I wanted to hang out with them,” he said. “But now it’s a family thing, and I’m really stuck into it now.”

FIRST robotic programs extend worldwide, with more than 300,000 students involved in the science and engineering of high-tech robots. They include roughly 10,000 students from Virginia alone.

The goal of FIRST is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills that inspire innovation, according to the group’s mission statement.

Students have the opportunity to compete for more than $16 million in college scholarships internationally by competing in the FIRST robotics competitions. That’s another incentive to draw new members to the exciting world of robotics.

For Ben Adams, a senior from Nansemond River High School in Suffolk, robotics has opened his eyes to the teamwork, engineering and creativity behind the entire competition’s unique spirit.

“It’s my first year in robotics,” Adams said. “This is really cool. I never thought some of the robots or things would ever be able to do some of this stuff. It’s really incredible stuff.”

Although it’s his first year in competitive robotics, Adams attributes his participation to his interest in engineering and a little persuasion from his teacher.

“I’m in an engineering program at school, and our teacher is the mentor for our group and she really got me involved. It’s been really good work,” he said.

Lindsey Franklin, a student at Goochland High School, has been interested in engineering ever since he got his first LEGO set at age 7. His passion has continued to grow throughout the years.

“I grew up building with LEGOs, and I never really got involved in lower competitions,” Franklin said. “But this was an opportunity in high school, and I took it.”

Franklin especially enjoys the mutual interest he shares with the thousands of other students in the competition. He has been quick to take a leadership role for the Goochland robotics team.

“I’ve definitely done my best so far,” he said. “I’ve most enjoyed just being around people that know how to do the same things I do.”

For video from the competition, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itHNW2OFr4Y.

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