Robotics challenge

Ashland High School's FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Club competed in the Northwest Regionals March 5-7 at the Portland Memorial Coliseum.

The rookie, six-member Ashland team had its work cut out for it in the competition against 54 other robots representing teams of high school students from Oregon, Hawaii, Alaska, California, Idaho and Washington.

"This was Ashland High School's first attempt at robotics competition and it turned out to be an amazing experience for everyone!" team captain Max Parker-Shames said. "We made friends and alliances to play the game with seasoned teams from all around the Northwest. We all learned a lot about robotics and teamwork."

The regional contest, Oregon's sixth, is one of 44 robotics competitions staged worldwide by FIRST. Teams range in size from six to 40 students, but average about 28. Ashland's robotics team's challenge is to get more students from around the area involved next year. The teams bring together students of diverse backgrounds, interests and ages.

In each FIRST competition, the challenge and the games are different. The technology in robots for the Oregon regional competition were designed to play "Lunacy" — a game meant to simulate activities on the moon's surface. Two groups of three robots, all towing round trailers, bounce about like bumper cars in a fenced area called the crater as they scoop up soccer-sized "moon rock" balls and shoot or drop them into their opponents' trailers. The group that sinks the most balls wins. The robots are remote-controlled from the sideline of the crater. In the case of Ashland's robot, it was designed to pick up a specific ball called a "Super Cell" that, if delivered into an opposing team's basket, would earn 15 points.

"Our robot was very maneuverable, and its robotic arm was easy to control," team co-captain Jason Bluhm said. "Creating a successful robot is all about teamwork. Our little six-student, one-mentor team did pretty well against some very large and experienced clubs."

In order to qualify, teams must raise at least $6,000 to cover the costs of building the robot, travel and accommodations. Parker-Shames wrote and received a $6,000 grant from NASA in order to enter the competition.

Robotics teams have to create a robot that can play the assigned game and withstand the rigorous competitions and numerous rounds. Ashland's team played a total of 14 rounds without one mechanical failure. The robot is currently being stored at ScienceWorks in Ashland and plans for a presentation/demonstration are in the works.

For more information about Ashland's Robotics Club and how to take part as a student, mentor or sponsor, contact Phoebe Parker-Shames at 482-1520. For more information about FIRST, go to

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