Staff Photo: John Bohn Sidney Rapsatt, a robotics coach with Shiloh Middle School, instructs his team while local students take part in the VEX Robotics National Qualifying event held Saturday at Peachtree Ridge High School.
SUWANEE -- Call it what you will, cynical outsider: the Nerd Olympics, Dork-a-palooza, Geeks and Gearshafts.
But ask Samir Jain, or anyone else at Peachtree Ridge High School on Saturday, and robotics competitions are just "incredible."
"I like the thrill of putting a robot together in six weeks," Jain, a Peachtree Ridge senior, said, the sheer excitement evident in his voice. "I like putting it together, rebuilding it, coming up with a new design, working on that design, putting it back together, and then seeing that in the competition."
Jain's school hosted a VEX robotics competition qualifier Saturday, welcoming 50 teams representing high schools and middle schools from across metro Atlanta. Using radio-controlled contraptions comprised of metal, wheels, sensors and electric motors -- think erector sets -- teams worked together to pick up plastic balls and "barrels" and drop them into goals.
Several hundred competitors and spectators crowded into the Peachtree Ridge cafeteria for an all-day series of head-to-head matches, live game action and commentary broadcast on a massive overhead screen.
"I don't know why I like it, I just do," Collins Hill High School senior Sehul Bhavsar said. "It's fun."
Added teammate Craig Raslawski, a junior: "You get to build things and you can make it do whatever you want."
Multiple teams from five Gwinnett County schools threw their gizmos in the ring Saturday: Brookwood, Collins Hill, Duluth and Peachtree Ridge high schools, as well as Shiloh Middle.
The road to competition starts from the beginning. Team members program their own robot, select the specific equipment to use and their choice of operational style to actually pick up and deliver objects. The latter ranged from conveyer belts to scooping techniques and clamp-style mechanisms.
Literal alliances are formed on the battlefield. The championship went to an alliance including one of Peachtree Ridge's eight teams and two squads from Woodward Academy. They're all now qualified for April's world championship competition in Anaheim, Calif.
"I think the kids get so much out of this, and just a feeling of accomplishment," said Valerie Strain, one of the event's coordinators. "We had a team that was about to give up, their robot wasn't working well and they had to go to a defensive strategy only. Now they're in the top rankings. You can go from low to high all in one day."
"It's all about leadership and confidence, and oh-by-the-way building a robot, too."