Valdosta Daily Times

January 27, 2013

Lowndes teams sweep robotics competition

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The Lowndes High School cafetorium was filled with robotics aficionados Saturday for the Vex Robotics Design Systems High School Competition, and Lowndes teams showed their engineering prowess, sweeping the top five out of eight brackets for a second time since their Jan. 5 competition in Savannah.

Teams designed and built robots from the same kit of parts to fulfill the task of lifting and moving small bean bags to score points in a gladiator-style ring competition. From the sidelines, high schoolers piloted their robots by remote control, attempting both to score points and keep their opponents from scoring.

Competitors have two minutes to lift and place as many bean bags into raised troughs and other locations to earn points, and for the first 15 seconds, the robots must move autonomously. The team with the most points wins the round.

Designing and building the robots is a long-term process, said Lowndes engineering and technology teacher John Newton, who organized and oversaw the game. Parents, administrators and competitors agreed that the Lowndes competition was well-organized and fair.

"The parents and community really come out to support this competition," Newton said. "SAFT and other companies like PCA are helping us."

Newton explained that through the competition

season, teams may make adjustments to their robots to deal with problems encountered during matches, always hoping to earn an advantage. Underdog stories are not uncommon, and "you never know what to expect," he said.

The best robots, like the model developed by sophomores Jalen Weise ad Ben Martin, the team that took first in Saturday's competition, have features that create a strong defense as well as an offense. Their model had a spinning wheel that scooped the bean bags into a hopper that would rise to deliver the payload into the point-gathering troughs.

The pair also extended a beam on the front of the robot to knock opponents' bags out of the troughs. The team won the tournament last year, too, Weise said.

Teams represented high schools from cities across the state, some as far as Atlanta, and worked together to identify strong leaders and make alliances with other teams that will prove advantageous in the competition.

The top five Lowndes teams were 383V (Weise and Martin) allied with 383 (Tyler Philips and Dipan Patel) winning first place, 383C (Karan Rao and Parth Patel) allied with 383N (Wesley Newton and Reed Lindsey) winning second, and 383M (Malik Adams alone) allied with an Atlanta team.

Robotics dad William Weise credits the success of Lowndes teams to the instruction and guidance of Newton, who supports his students as an instructor as well as a coach.

"The reason these kids do what they do and do it as well as they do is because of his instruction," Weise said. "These guys compete against Atlanta teams, and they're the best in the state. In California, they compete against the best in the world."