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Robots at work: Local robotics club hosts regional

Teams compete during Saturday's Batavia FTC Robotics Regional at Rotolo Middle School. The event, called "Ring It Up", was hosted by Fox Valley Robotics.
Teams compete during Saturday's Batavia FTC Robotics Regional at Rotolo Middle School. The event, called "Ring It Up", was hosted by Fox Valley Robotics.

BATAVIA - For Micah Mallette, few things are more fun than sending a robot into competition.

But Mallette, a North Aurora resident and freshman at West Aurora High School, said one thing that might come close is watching robots made by others compete head-to-head.

"For me, when all of it comes together, it's one of the best feelings," Mallette said. "So it's really cool to come out here and see all the teams, and see what they've built, and how it all works for them."

Saturday, Mallette was among a number of volunteers assembled by local student robotics club, Fox Valley Robotics, to help host the Batavia First Tech Challenge Robotics Regional competition.

The event, at Rotolo Middle School in Batavia, serves as one of four regional qualifying events leading up to the Illinois state championship event next month in Chicago for First Tech Challenge.

Manchester, N.H.-based FIRST, an organization founded to encourage young people to become involved in science and technology, hosts its annual FTC, culminating with a world championship event in St. Louis early next year, to offer middle and high school students an arena in which to put their engineering and computer programming skills to work by designing and programming robots to be entered into competition.

Locally, about 18 students from high schools in the Tri-Cities and elsewhere in Kane, DuPage and Kendall counties, participate in the robotics competition as part of the Fox Valley Robotics club.

The club was founded in 2002, and hosts the Batavia FTC qualifying regional event.

Fox Valley Robotics coach Ron Karabowicz noted that his FVR teams did not compete in Saturday's event at Rotolo, as FTC rules do not allow local teams to compete in their own local qualifying events.

Instead, FVR competed a week earlier at the qualifying event at Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago, earning three awards and invitations to the state championship.

The members of the team, their parents and others affiliated with FVR staffed the Batavia regional Saturday, allowing two dozen teams of 4-6 members each from Chicago and the suburbs the chance to compete.

This year's competition required the teams to build robots, using processors, sensors and motors supplied by LEGO, that could hang plastic rings on pegs made of PVC pipe. Teams earned points for hanging the rings, as well as for doing so in certain patterns and for lifting other "allied" robots off the floor.

The event featured 42 matches, each involving four robots at a time.

Karabowicz said he believed events like the Batavia regional help to raise the profile of robotics in the local schools and in the community, offering students skilled in math, science and technology an outlet in which to develop those talents.

"This is hard to do," Karabowicz said. "And to see what these kids produce with just six to 10 weeks to get ready, it's really great."

Mallette said he has competed with the FVR teams for four years, and intends to continue building competition-quality robots throughout his high school years.

He noted that this year he helped program the driver control for FVR's entries into FTC and helped build the robots, working a few hours almost every day since September to get ready for the November qualifying events.

"It's pretty intense," Mallette said. "And a lot of fun."

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