EAGLE RIVER, Alaska (AP) — High-schoolers from Anchorage, the Mat-Su Valley and Kenai Peninsula put their engineering skills to the test during a two-day robotics competition Feb. 15-16 at Eagle River High.
The results couldn't have been better for the hosts.
All 19 Eagle River students, broken into five teams, qualified for the state robotics tournament March 8-9 at UAA.
The Cyber Wolves, made up of Thor Austin, Erik Korzon and Nathaniel Lunod, set a new state record of 410 points in the qualifying round.
The high score surprised the team, Korzon said.
"We actually weren't expecting to do that well," he said.
Teams of three or four maneuvered their robot in an enclosed space trying to place plastic rings on one of nine positions on a tic-tac-toe board made of PVC pipe. Each ring on the bottom row was worth five points, the middle 10 and the top row was worth 15. An additional 30 points were awarded for each tic-tac-toe.
Each aluminum robot can be no larger than 18-by-18-by-18 inches. While each team received the same kit, students were allowed to modify their robots as long as they stayed within specific guidelines.
The record-setting robot was anything but standard.
"We only used two or three parts from the basic kit," Korzon said.
Students were responsible for the entire construction process — welding, soldering, electrical wiring — of their robots.
"What you see literally is what they do," said Ryan Prnka, co-sponsor of the ERHS robotics club. "It's not the adults."
Students even handled all the computer programming.
"They actually write code," Prnka said.
In just its second year as a club, Eagle River went from two teams to five this year.
"I can't believe the success we've had," Prnka said. "And the support."
The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Tech Challenge is part of an educational initiative aimed at increasing students' interest in science, technology, engineering and math.
The robotics club does just that, Prnka said.
"They're learning real engineering skills," he said. "It's an exciting opportunity for kids."
It also gives kids who may not be the most athletically inclined students a chance to compete against others, Prnka said.
"This gives them a way to shine," he said.
Like any after-school activity, being a member of the robotics club requires commitment. The club meets after school for two hours Mondays and Wednesdays and for four hours on Saturdays.
"You have to have some level of dedication," Lunod said.
Those eight hours a week are some of his favorites, Korzon said.
"It's work, but it is fun," he said.
Unlike athletic events, opposing teams at robotics tournaments assist one another, said Lunod, who described the competition as "helping competitiveness."
"It's the same way between schools," he said.
All three members of the Cyber Wolves hope to study engineering after high school.
Eagle River High's robotics club is a great place to start, Lunod said.
"I thought it would be good practice," he said.