Robot Takeover on UVA Grounds

January 11, 2014

Hundreds of middle and high school students from all over the region gathered at UVa.'s Slaughter Recreation Center to test their engineering skills in a high-tech robotics contest.

Students spent the whole day preparing for qualifying matches. Theses matches allowed teams to challenge their remote controlled robots to gather plastic blocks and load them into baskets in a timed contest.

Definitely high energy as two-dozen teams competed against each other for spots at the FIRST Tech Challenge State Championship in March.

Local school Western Albemarle High is hoping their robot comes out on top.

Caroline Bertrand, a teacher at Western Albemarle High School says the competition is intensely academic. "Students are designing building and programming a robot to do very complex tasks for a different competition every year," said Bertrand.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) aims to encourage more students to become interested in pursuing STEM education.

Building these robots is no easy task as many teams spent the last 6 months gearing up for the big competition.

From handling finances to reaching out for sponsorships the Loose Screws handle it all.

"Any part on the robot is completely and totally designed by them they'll research all of the different options and make all of the decisions about what they think would be best for their design for their robot," said Danielle Villhauer, the Loose Screws Mentor.

As a volunteer-driven organization there are plenty of people who live and breathe robotics and hope to pass that passion to their students.

Bill Gardner, a parent volunteer spends much of his time encouraging students to become interested in STEM. "Last year what the first year I volunteered at the Western Albemarle High School where there are two teams and I thought it was so wonderful that this year I went out and tried to make sure that Albemarle High School, Monticello High School and Charlottesville High School also all had teams," said Gardner

Here's something for those looking for a cool way to display their love for FIRST and robotics. FIRST team Sparky 384 from J. R. Tucker High School in Richmond has designed a FIRST license plate for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Delegate John O'Bannon is sponsoring a bill for the group and if approved by the General Assembly, signed by the governor and 450 orders are placed, the DMV will put them into production.

The bill goes to the General Assembly in two couple weeks.

Each license plate costs $10.

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