Building a better 'bot in Ballston Spa

Where do robots come from? While many might envision the dark lair of a mad scientist or a gleaming, high-tech clean room, members of the Ballston Spa High School Robotics Club are hard at work on their own mechanized creation in the school's technology rooms.

They will be entering their finished product in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics Competition in March. It's the first time the district has fielded a team, though teams from Albany, Colonie and Shenendehowa are frequent competitors. Though the school has long been aware of the contest, the $6,000 registration and materials fee had proved to be a formidable barrier.

It's something that we've wanted to do for a while, said district Science Coordinator Diane Irwin. "A $6,000 gift from Ballston Spa National Bank made it possible this year."

Additional sponsorships have been received from other area companies, including Informz, CS Arch, TCT Federal Credit Union and Specialty Silicone Products. The team is still looking for additional sponsorships in order to secure lodging and pay for transportation to the competition.

The contest started in 1989 with just 27 teams. The 2009 FIRST Robotics Competition will feature almost 1,700 high school teams from all over the world competing in a unique challenge, taking six weeks to build robots from a kit of common parts provided by FIRST. The challenge and rules change every year.

"It's considered the varsity sport of the mind," said Greg Roberts, a Ballston Spa technology and pre-engineering teacher and official advisor to the Robotics Club.

This year's event is called "Lunacy," and is designed to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11's historic moon landing. Teams must construct a robot capable of picking up and placing moon rocks (9-inch balls) in a trailer behind their opponent's robot. Whoever can score more points in a 2 minute, 15 second match, wins.

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