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Bubbles: Built for Combat, Bringing Laughter

  • Post category:General News
  • Post last modified:March 10, 2016

The name “Bubbles” may seem out of character for a robot programmed to lay siege on a medieval fortress.

But it’s sure to give spectators a giggle – and possibly put Alta High’s opponents off guard at the 2016 Utah Regional FIRST Robotics Competition. “That’s why my students like it. You can’t say the name without laughing,” says Alta’s Robotics Adviser Ronald Strohm.

Four CSD high schools – Alta, Brighton, Corner Canyon and Hillcrest – will go up against 44 teams from 10 states and Canada at West Valley City’s Maverik Center March 18-19. Competition is fierce with teams flying in from as far as Florida and Hawaii. “We’d like to have someone from Utah win this thing,” Strohm says. “Utah teams have won competitions outside the state, but never on home turf.”

Co-sponsored by the University of Utah’s College of Engineering, this fast-paced “sporting event for the mind” is the culmination of an intense design-build period for the teams. Following a worldwide unveiling of this year’s challenge in January, students had just six weeks to design, build, program and test their robots. There’s a spending cap of $4,000. And when they arrive at the Maverik Center, each robot is checked to ensure it meets weight limits and safety requirements.

In this year’s “FIRST Stronghold” contest, alliances of robots join forces in a battle to defend their castle and breach the enemy’s by catapulting boulders, or rubber balls, at its towers. They score points by retrieving grounded balls and launching them through tower windows. During the last 20 seconds of the round, the robots surround and scale the enemy fortress to capture it.

Without giving away their “secret sauce,” Strohm says it would be foolhardly to underestimate Bubbles. The Alta High team has fewer years under its belt than many of its out-of-state competitors. But students are limited only by their grit and imaginations.

If robotics competitions ignite in young people a passion for science and technology, they also expose students to other critical life skills. Each team has to write a business plan and find corporate sponsors to help pay for supplies. “Students do every bit of it. They write the grants and make the phone calls and build websites to market themselves. There’s even a group in charge of making sure the shop is safe,” says Strohm. “Our rookie year, students applied for and won a $5,000 grant from NASA.”

And all of this factors into a team’s performance; youdon’t have to win first place at the regional competition to advance the national championship held April 27 – 30 in St. Louis. Special awards for excellence in engineering or for the best rookie team at regionals also merit a trip to nationals.

What:  The Utah Regional FIRST Robotics Competition is free and open to the public.

Where:  Maverik Center, 3200 S. Decker Lake Dr., West Valley City

When:  March 18-19

If You Go:

  • Opening ceremonies: Friday and Saturday, 8:30 to 9 a.m.
  • Qualification matches: Friday, 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5:45 p.m., and Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon.
  • Final rounds: Saturday, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.
  • Awards ceremonies: Friday, 5:45 to 6:15 p.m. and Saturday, 4:30 to 6 p.m.
  • Pits and machine shop: Opens Friday and Saturday at 8 a.m.