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UPDATED: Robotics students raise $7,000, ready to take on the world

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UPDATED: Robotics students raise $7,000, ready to take on the world

PORTLAND — A high school robotics team proved they're more than meets the eye at a recent statewide competition. Now they're poised to take on the world, especially after raising $7,000 for the trip.

Earlier this year, the five-member Portland High School Robotics Team was one of three Maine teams to qualify for the VEX Robotics World Championship, a four-day event beginning April 23 in Anaheim, Calif. On Friday, April 4, the team will share their creations in Monument Square during the monthly First Friday Art Walk.

On Wednesday afternoon, the school district announced the team had met their goal: $320 from a fundraising event at Gelato Fiasco and $5,000 from Andrew Palmer – a self-described "serial entrepreneur" who "specializes in accelerating the foundation and growth of early-stage, mission-driven companies" from his headquarters at Koa Labs in Cambridge, Mass. The remainder came from friends and families of the team.

The robotics team was formed in March 2013 after the school received a donation of VEX robotics equipment. The equipment, which evokes a modern-age Erector set, allows students to construct contraptions that perform simple tasks, either through the use of a joystick or through pre-programmed commands called "autonomous" competitions.

The team is headed by Rosalee Lamm, its faculty adviser. Earlier this year, Lamm – a Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumna with a background in geophysics – launched the district's first engineering class.

The robotics students were initially reluctant to compete on the state level, but they received encouragement from Ryan Foley, an engineer from Portland-based software developer Kepware Technologies, who serves as the team's mentor and has been a robotics hobbyist for the past 15 years.

To the team's great surprise, they beat 32 other teams in an autonomous event wherein their robot pushed balls through a designated course.

Next, they'll face more than 400 teams for the world championship, including teams from Bangor and Kittery.

The Portland team is placing their hopes in STEMmy, a robot named for its place within the students' education in science, technology, engineering and math.

"It's one of the funnest ways to apply engineering into the real world," freshman Nick Giaquinto said of robotics. "I really enjoy it. It's a lot of thinking."

On a recent Friday after school, the team was busy assembling STEMmy, a robot that will hopefully perform what is essentially a chin up, by extending its scissor lift-style arms to a horizontal bar and lifting itself off the ground.

During a trial run, however, the gears slipped and the bottom-heavy, Wall-E-resembling machine landed back on the floor with a bump.

Undaunted, the students went back to the drawing board.

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.