SANTA CLARA -- A group of Bay Area students will have on their game faces Saturday. After months of building and redesigning, teams of students from seven Bay Area middle and high schools will join 41 other teams from across the state to test their creations in a robot competition.
The Vex Robotics California State Championship is being held at California's Great America amusement park and will be California's first state championship.
To reach this stage, the 48 teams beat out their robot-building competition at local matches throughout the school year. "This is the best of the best," said Jason Morrella, president of the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation, which has run the international competition for more than five years. There will be "a lot of really impressive robots and really impressive teams," he said.
Cheered on by their families and fans, the teams will go head-to-head to see whose robot will outscore the other in a game called "VEX Sack Attack."
Teams must design their robots to be able to pick up scattered bean bags and place them into an array of goals. Robots can drop the sacks onto special colored squares, swoop them up and plop them into troughs, or perch them high atop a pedestal. The higher the target, the more points the team racks up. Teams can sabotage their challengers by removing a competitor's bean bags from the goals.
Strategy is important. The teams only have two minutes to engage in this
After the hands-free challenge, students pick up their remote controls and zip the robotic creations across the playing field, gathering bean bags as quickly as they can.
Jonathan Chang, 18, a student at San Jose's Bellarmine College Preparatory, said students there have been strategizing since before the school year began.
At first, the idea of robots picking up bean bags threw Chang for a bit of a loop. "This is the first year we had a game where the objects were not solid objects," he said. Picking up floppy bags was a new challenge that needed a fresh design.
Bellarmine has five robots entered in the competition. Many of those robots were designed in 3D on the computer before students built them using aluminum and steel.
All teams start with the same robotics kit, but there are as many designs are there are teams. Each group's robot must be no larger than an 18-inch cube to start the game but may shift like a Transformer once the game begins.
Students redesign and tweak their robots over the school year in hopesof edging out their competition. "It's is a combination of something like an Intel science fair with a high school basketball championship," said Morrella, who hopes the program will excite students by giving them a fun hands-on challenge.
At the state competition, each team will play eight to 10 matches. The top scorers will move on to the playoffs, where the winner will be decided. "California's Great America is excited to bring in the California state robotics championship; we believe in education and providing opportunities for our youth," said Roger Ross, public relations manager for the theme park.
The State Robotics Championship begins at 9 a.m. with robots facing off until 5 p.m. Saturday. It is open to the public, with free parking.
Up to eight of the highest ranking teams at the event will head to the World Championship in Anaheim, April 18-21.
The Bay Area schools competing include: San Jose's Bellarmine, Heart Academy and Challenger Middle School. Grange Middle School in Fairfield, Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon, Dublin High School in Dublin and Head-Royce School in Oakland also have teams vying for spots at the World Championships.
The event Saturday is part of a national and global program with almost 7,500 teams in about 25 countries. More than 700 teams will be competing at the World Championships next month.
Chang's team is ready to see the robots in action. "We've been preparing all semester for this," he said.