- Associated Press - Friday, February 7, 2014

SACATON, Ariz. (AP) - There is something about a robot that fascinates kids - even if it is only 10 inches tall.

“I like watching how they move and stuff like that,” Sacaton fifth-grader Marcos Peters said.

Students in the Sacaton Middle School Science Club learned to program robots last month, and if they continue working on their programming skills, they can take their robots to the 13th annual RoboRAVE (Robots Are Very Educational) International competition May 1-3 in Albuquerque, N.M.

RoboRAVE co-founders Russ Fisher-Ives and Fabian Lopez helped Sacaton club members hone their competition skills.

Fisher-Ives said a robot’s “brain” is the microcontroller.

“That brain in there is where you put your intelligence,” he said. “If there’s no instructions in here, what kind of machine do we have? A stupid machine.

“Who’s going to make it intelligent? Your team. And if your team doesn’t know how - you talk to another team, because this is about learning from each other.”

The first two days of the competition will be spent practicing on the competition tracks and tweaking programs so the robots run better.

“If you’re ready to run and the track is open, you can go, run, score and then go back to your pit, make it better, go back and run again,” Fisher-Ives said. “Sometimes teams are running 15, 20, 25 times or more.”

The challenge events are on the third day, followed by a tournament among the top eight teams in each challenge. First-year teams, like those from Sacaton, typically compete in four challenges:

— The A-MAZE-ing challenge involves programming a robot to follow a maze without using any sensors. If the robot falls off the 1-inch-high track, it’s back to the pit to tweak the programming and try again.

— Jousting is attaching a “knight,” or metal water bottle, to a robot’s platform with three small magnets, attaching a lance to the side of the robot and programming it to use its high-contrast sensor to follow a line and knock the opposing team’s knight off its robot.

— Line following is building a lightweight delivery system and programming the robot to move it, follow a black line to a tower and deliver as many pingpong balls as possible in three minutes.

— The triathlon is scoring the highest cumulative score from the three challenges using the same robot and modifying it for the different events.

Fisher-Ives said some middle school teams may also compete in firefighting, locating and extinguishing four candles in three minutes without touching them.

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