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Teams from all over compete in robotics contest

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

DULUTH -- With the women's Southeastern Conference basketball tournament under way next door, fans and competitors of a different sort filled the Gwinnett Civic Center on Saturday.

The event, the Peachtree Regional FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition, featured thousands of high school students from eight southern states, all vying for the right to compete in the FIRST championship April 15-17 at the Georgia Dome.

FIRST is a nonprofit organization created to inspire young minds and motivate the youth to pursue careers in science, technology and engineering. To "transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated," said FIRST founder Dean Kamen in a release.

Worldwide, more than 1,800 teams hail from countries such as Brazil, Germany, Mexico and the U.K. Thirty-one teams from Georgia participated in Saturday's competition, including four from Gwinnett.

When it was all said and done, the North Gwinnett Robotics and its robot, Black Widow 2, had avenged its 2009 semifinal loss.

North Gwinnett, as did every team, spent six weeks planning, designing, building and testing its striker and goalie for this year's game, the soccer-styled Breakaway.

The culmination of those efforts was a combination of computers, programs, interfaces, joysticks and spare parts that earned students a chance to further showcase their engineering skills in Atlanta.

Team president Michael Lowry, a senior, figures he spent about 300 hours on the project. Team members met every day after school, he said, and most Saturdays.

Both Lowry and team Vice President Austin Shenk, a junior, are veterans of the Robotics Competition.

Shenk followed his brother into the program three years ago and discovered his affinity for seeing ideas become reality.

"I liked getting my hands on things and seeing things that we designed getting built and actually moving, so, it's cool in that aspect," Shenk said.

Lowry, who hopes to major in mechanical engineering at Brigham Young University, said the competition is "really a unique opportunity."

"It's really cool. Not a lot of people know about it, but pretty much everyone who joins the team wants to come to the competition and see the event and they get hooked."