Cape Elizabeth students qualify for national, world robotics contests

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GORHAM — Cape Elizabeth students have qualified for the third consecutive year to compete in a worldwide robotics championship.

Two teams, one from the high school and one from the middle school, competed in the Vex Robotics Tournament held at Hill Gymnasium at the University of Southern Maine’s Gorham campus on Dec. 3.

They bested 15 teams from five other schools, with their robots competing against each other in a complex game. Teams were paired up against each other in “alliances” of two teams. Each alliance placed their robots in 12-foot square pens and competed for points by placing barrels and balls into baskets or into the corner of the playing area.

Robots had to start the match at no larger than 18 inches by 18 inches, though they could extend and grow after the starting buzzer, and could have a maximum of 10 motors. Aside from that, the students were free to design however they liked.

“These kids learn (science, technology, engineering, math), teamwork, game theory,” said Ethan Thayer, a Cape Elizabeth teacher who was master of ceremonies at the competition. “They learn everything.”

Cape Elizabeth’s winning high school team – sophomores Luke Dvorozniak and Anthony Castro – will be headed to the World Championship in Anaheim, Calif., and the National Championship in Omaha, Neb. The middle school team – seventh-graders Sam Price, Kyle Long, Mac Brucher, Mac Huffard and Will Costello – also qualified for the National Championship.

Teams worked about a year designing robots to compete in the game. Some robots picked up objects, others pushed them into the corner to score quick points. The more complex robots, like the one operated by the winning Cape Elizabeth High School team, sucked up objects three at a time on a conveyor belt and deposited them into the baskets.

“We’ve gotten better every year,” Dvorozniak said during a break in the competition.

The team has already made it to the world contests twice. Kathy Barber, Dvorozniak’s mom, said that last year in Orlando, Fla., the kids ended up on an alliance with a Chinese team. They strategized and worked together in the absence of a common language, she said.

But back to the robot, and its teenage masters:

“With this robot, we wanted to score as quick as possible,” Dvorozniak said. “So we knew we had to pick up as many items as we could at one time.”

The high school duo’s robot featured 10 motors, two pneumatic cylinders and 10 sensors. It had four different programs that allowed it to function autonomously during the 20-second start of the match, when controllers weren’t allowed to work their robots.

“We started designing this robot right after the Worlds contest last year,” Castro said. “We just started writing down ideas.”

The team had the help of a few professional engineers, Barber said, but the kids did all the actual design and construction.

“When they were in eighth grade and got to Worlds, the pressure was immense,” she said. “Anthony’s mom and I said we needed to get an engineer on board to help them with their build process.”

The duo started in fifth grade with Legos, and she said they’d always wanted to dive in and start building. The professional engineers taught the kids not to pick up the wrench until they had a solid design.

A team from North Yarmouth Academy, whose robot was similar to the CEHS team’s, came in second place as part of an alliance with a Sanford High School team.

As would be expected, the NYA team members were disappointed at not winning the gold, but said they felt good about their work.

“Last year, our team was seventh,” said Katherine Roche, a junior on the team. “This year, we’re third overall and second in the tournament. So I’ll sleep well tonight. That’s monumental from last year.”

There are 35o VEX contests worldwide. The southern Maine contest and another in Orono are sponsored by Fairchild Semiconductor.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.

Sidebar Elements

Cape Elizabeth High School sophomores Anothony Castro, left, and Luke Dvorozniak guide their robot during a match at the VEX Robotics Tournament Dec. 3 at USM in Gorham. The pair went on to win the Excellence Award for their robot, and were part of the tournament-winning alliance with a Cape Elizabeth Middle School team. The team qualified for its third consecutive World Championship, and the National Championship.

Carter Hall, a Yarmouth High School freshman, works on his team’s robot during a break in competition at the VEX Robotics Tournament Dec. 3 in Gorham.

A Greely High School team’s robot drops a barrel into a goal to score a point at the VEX Robotics Tournament Dec. 3 in Gorham.