Feb. 06--DECATUR -- Mackenzie Butchee walked inside a 12 feet by 12 feet square filled with blocks and balls, picked up her robot, walked out and shared a high-five with a teammate.
Butchee and her teammates with Oops! Robotics out of O'Fallon had just won their match at the Decatur Qualifier for the FIRST Tech Challenge on Saturday at Hope Academy.
"Our autonomous isn't going well, but our driver-controlled period is," Butchee said.
FIRST Tech Challenge teams are made up of 10-plus members in grades seven through 12 who design, build, program and operate robots to play a floor game called FIRST RES-Q. In a simulation of a mountain rescue, robots score points by moving balls and blocks into a goal, moving levers to release zip line climber figurines and -- in the final 30 seconds of each two-minute competition -- driving up a 30-degree incline and parking or hanging from the top bar.
Some teams are formed through high schools, others through youth programs like Girl Scouts and 4-H.
"My Girl Scout leader asked me if I wanted to get involved, and we started out as a Botball team," Butchee said. "But we switched to (FIRST Tech) because it looked like a lot more fun, and it is.
"I've learned so many things, like how to use power tools and a bunch of different types of drills and saws. I've always known how to use tools like wrenches and screwdrivers, but now I'm using drill presses and chop saws."
Justin Harre, 17, or Marseilles is in his first year competing in FIRST Tech.
"I had some friends who were doing it through 4-H, so I got involved," Harre said. "I had always liked to work on cars and tinkered around, so when I heard about this I was excited to be a part of it."
Harre's team, Insert Name Here out of Ottawa, caused the crowd to erupt when their robot made it up the incline successfully.
"Our first two matches we'd had some minor problems with giant consequences and we hadn't been able to score much," Harre said. "But we fixed all the bugs in that last match."
After each competition, teams gather at tables with their robots and make any tweaks necessary for the next round. Butchee walked around the table and gave instructions with each robot.
"I'm the lead builder: I do the organizing," Butchee said.
Suzanne Broussard started the robotics movement in Decatur through her 4-H team, Robostorms. According to Suzanne Kunezeman, an Illinois FIRST Tech Challege co-partner, Decatur now has 14 teams. Kunzeman said work is currently under way to get teams started at MacArthur and Eisenhower.
"It's a great thing for kids: They learn how to build things and work as a team," Kunzeman said. "It's almost like being part of a small business. You deal with a budget and even branding."
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