LIVONIA – Robotics teams from middle and high schools across New York State converged on the Livonia Middle School gym on Saturday to put their little machines and big brains to the test.
According to Livonia high school physics teacher Mike Cronmiller, who helped bring the VEX Robotics Competition to Livonia 3 years ago, the competition brings out the best in students’ work ethic, and nurtures their individual talents within their teams.
“How fun is it as a teacher that kids are learning about engineering and robotics and I have to kick them out of my room at the end of the day?” said Cronmiller. “And what if this sparks a real love for engineering in one student and they take off and design the next iPhone?”
The rules are simple, but not easy: physically build and write code for an 18-inch by 18-inch robot using parts from the VEX Robotics catalog that will accomplish a specific task, determined by VEX every year, to earn points and outscore the opposing team. Last year, the objective was stacking cubes. This year, it’s getting colored balls into nets as quickly as possible.
However, Zach Davis, 15, a member of one of Livonia’s three robotics teams, explained that competition success depends on much more than having the biggest baddest robot.
“Last year we lost in the semifinals but went to states on an Excellence Award, that’s for sportsmanship, keeping good engineering notes, the little details,” explained Davis, sitting at a table covered in pliers, wires, and batteries. “There are also strength points for how close your scores are. So if you’re crushing the other team, maybe you’ll put a couple of balls in the other team’s net to earn strength points.”
Participating students can qualify for various engineering and technology scholarships.
VEX and the U.S. Army offer various grants and awards to schools to help them with their teams. For this competition, that means three official game arenas and two large TV screens to show the clock ticking down during game time, courtesy of the Army.
School teams that competed on Saturday included Livonia, Dansville, Brockport, Buffalo, Watertown, Syracuse, Grant, Chittenango, Sandy Creek, Fulton, Nottingham, and Pioneer.
The competition is managed by the Robotics Education and Competition (REC) Foundation.