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Mixed results for local robots at championships

MVHS robotics teams has bad break, while NASA team takes first in world

Hundreds of robotics teams from across the world competed at the robotics championship in St. Louis late last month. While many Bay Area teams performed well, the Cheesy Poofs -- a NASA Ames robotics team -- came home as world champions.

In the competition, teams form "alliances" and play a game called aerial assist, where their robots work together to bounce, throw, hit or push a 24-inch medicine ball into one of two goals to score points. The more the robots assist each other to score goals, the more points the team gets.

The tournament is hosted by For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

The Cheesy Poofs, or team 254, came in first place out of the 400 participating teams, their second championship win in the last four years. Founded in 1998, the Cheesy Poofs have grown into a team of 150 students from Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose.

The team's robot for this year's competition is named Barrage. Weighing in at 95 pounds, the six-engine, six-wheeled robot can move as fast as 18 feet per second in high gear, and can control up to three balls at a time, according to the team's robot statistics.

Spartan Robotics, the Mountain View High School robotics team, went into the championship with two wins under its belt; the team won first place at the Sacramento and Silicon Valley regionals, picking up awards for robot design and creativity. Their robot, Mammoth, is a quick-moving robot with "tusks" that made it easy for the team to manipulate the ball.

Their strategy at tournaments involved a team effort between mentors and students. A mentor would record a video of every match, and afterward would take it down to the students in the pit to watch it and analyze.

Spartan Robotics made it to the finals of their division but eventually lost, though through no fault of their own. One robot in their alliance had a loose battery connection, and sat dead in the field while the game continued, according to Wyn Schuh, head mentor for Spartan Robotics. The team lost to an alliance that included Citrus Circuits, a team out of Davis that practiced with Spartan Robotics prior to the event.

Spartan Robotics also practiced with the Cheesy Poofs, on the weekend heading into the championship.

Now that this year's competition is over, both Barrage and Mammoth will retire from competitions. Because of the format of the robotics tournaments, each year has a different game that will require a completely different type of robot, making the old ones obsolete. Schuh said the old robots are sometimes used for demonstrations and new recruitment, and other times get cannibalized for new projects. She said earlier this year, old robot parts were used to make a defense robot designed to block shots.

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