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Robot competition fosters 'coopertition'

Robot competition fosters 'coopertition'

Fans packed the David S. Mack Arena last week for two separate regional competitions, cheering loudly, sporting costumes and holding up large light-up number signs and banners. But they weren’t cheering for a sporting event; they were cheering for a high school robotics competition.

High school teams from Long Island, across the country and even around the world brought their homemade, 100-pound robots to compete in the School-Business Partnership of Long Island (SBPLI)’s 19th annual Long Island Regional FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition (FRC)[MH1] . Their robots didn’t battle each other like BattleBots, but they did compete on alliances against each other in a video game themed contest.

This year’s challenge from FRC is called Power Up, in which two alliances of three robots and their human operators compete in an arcade-style competition. Robots pick up power cubes and place them to control switches and a scale, pass power cubes out of the ring in exchange for power-ups and ascend to the top of the scale.

Even though this is a competition, the atmosphere in the “pits” – the areas where each team repairs their robot in between matches – is far from cut-throat.

“All these teams are talking to each other and cooperating so we invented this word ‘coopertition,’” said Bertram Dittmar, the executive director of SBPLI/FIRST.

Perhaps nobody else embodies the FIRST message of ‘coopertition’ more than the three winners of last week’s Regional No. 1: INTEGRA from Istanbul, Turkey; Las Guerillas from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; and Alternating Current from Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.

Olivia Clipperman, a 17-year-old competitor on Alternating Current, felt it was really amazing to ally with INTEGRA.

“One of the cool things about FIRST is that you get to meet people who you would never get to meet otherwise, so it’s a unique experience,” Cooperman said. “We traveled to this tournament; we’re from Pennsylvania. Almost everybody here is someone from at least out of state, and competing with someone out of country is just really cool.”

In the 70 qualifying matches of Regional No. 1, the 35 competing teams were placed onto opposing alliances. After the qualifiers, the top eight-seeded teams, of which INTEGRA was first seed, became alliance captains and selected two teams to join their alliance to compete for all of the playoff matches. And with that, three groups of teenagers who met the day before came together in mutual hopes of winning and traveling to one of FIRST’s two championships.

When Las Guerillas perform badly in a match, it’s their tradition to do push-ups, and when they perform well, it’s their tradition to eat gummy bears. During the playoffs, when the Las Guerillas did push-ups, INTEGRA did push-ups. When Las Guerillas ate gummy bears, the entire alliance partook in the reward.

When disaster struck and Alternating Current’s robot broke, Las Guerillas was there with spare parts and a helping hand.

“At this point, all of us want everyone to be fully capable for our matches so we’re doing anything we can to make sure all of us are playing to the best of our abilities,” said Brigetta Greiner, a 17-year-old on Las Guerillas. “We don’t have all of the normal supplies we usually do because we’re far away from home, but we have the basics, so if they need something we can quickly grab it so we can all play and still fight to win.”

It was no surprise that INTEGRA would lead their alliance to victory. Last year they were finalists for the Chairman’s Award, the most prestigious award at FIRST, which honors teams that represent a model for others to emulate and best embody the FIRST message. INTEGRA is as outgoing off the field as they are formidable on the field.

Seventeen-year-old Amirhan Yalin said, “This team is not only focusing on robots. It’s much more than robots to us. So that’s the most important thing to me. Because Turkey’s not that rich and Turkey doesn’t have that much technology. So being on the team makes me have the opportunity to spread the FIRST message and spread science and technology to the whole community of Turkey.”

For example, this past year INTEGRA prepared a STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – curriculum and traveled to the Ministry of National Education in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, to present it. They took their robot from last season and despite the Ministry not normally allowing children to speak, the Ministry listened and adopted two topics from the curriculum to be implemented nation-wide.

Team INTEGRA has also prepared 25,000 STEM kits and is donating them to underprivileged areas in the world. The team is trying to use its connections to other FIRST teams in different parts of the world to distribute the kits. Their outreach in the community knows no limits; these are just some of their projects.

Seventeen-year-old Eylul Ilgitvatan said, “I’m trying to do community outreach projects and spread science and technology to every corner of the world with my teammates.”

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