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Robotics team to compete at 'worlds'

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Port Townsend's robotics team has raised enough money to attend this year's world championship competition April 22-25 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Team coach Austin Henry told the Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader April 10 the team – the Roboctopi – needed to raise $15,000 to cover a $5,000 entry fee and send 10 of the team's 15 students, along with coaches and several parents, to the four-day event. If it failed to raise at least half that amount by April 14, Austin said he would have to decline the invite.

“We have raised close to $10,000 in the past four days,” Henry told the Leader April 14. “We definitely have to continue our effort, but I'm confident enough that I was able to go ahead and get us registered.”

This would mark the team's first opportunity to compete at the FIRST Robotics Competition, now in its 24th year. FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

Now in its second year, Port Townsend's team would be one of 600 teams from around the world, and one of 31 teams from the Washington-Oregon region.

Having reached the Pacific Northwest District Championship in its inaugural year, the team placed 37th of 152 regional teams. As a result, the team did not make 2014's world championship, which was reserved for the top 24 teams. It did, however, receive several awards available only to first-year teams, which bettered its overall ranking.

“It was an extremely strong showing for a rookie team,” Henry said, adding that this year the team has placed 35th of 152 teams and has also won the region's Excellence in Engineering Award.

“For us to advance this year without those artificial boosters, I think, is quite an accomplishment.”

From March 5-7, the team placed 12th of 28 teams in a district event at West Valley High School in Spokane. Then, from March 13-15, the team placed 13th of 29 teams competing at Mount Vernon High School in Skagit County.

From April 1-4, the team competed against the top 64 regional teams during the district championship at Eastern Washington University in Cheney.

During a qualifying round-robin tournament, the team placed 28th.

“It was an an extraordinarily tough competition, so for them to do that was particularly inspiring given what they were up against,” Henry said.

The team placed 37th, though its overall regional ranking is 35th. That means four other teams have declined invitations to the world championship event, allowing Port Townsend's team a chance.

In order to attend the district championship, the team raised $4,090 in 17 days through an indiegogo.com fundraising campaign to cover a $4,000 entry fee.

“We found the online program was great for raising funds for the district championship because it was an easy platform for friends and family to use,” said Henry, adding that the team has nearly exhausted such sources of money, causing it to turn to the larger community.

In this year's game, called Recycle Rush, robots score points by stacking totes on platforms, capping those stacks with recycling containers and properly disposing of pool noodles, which represent litter.

Each team gets six weeks to design, build and program a robot before entering the season's competitions.

COMPLICATED FUN

"It was complicated at points, yet unbelievably fun," said Port Townsend High School sophomore Chance Kane, a member of the mechanical team.

The robot, nicknamed Mad Stacks, must be able to pick up and stack 8-pound plastic rectangular totes. Placing recycling bins on top multiplies the number of points gained. Each match begins with a 15-second period in which the robot must be operated autonomously, after which time it's remotely controlled.

"This is literally the best sport I have ever had the privilege of being part of," said PTHS senior Allen Gressley, a member of the mechanical team who also does media outreach.

The team is comprised of 15 high school students representing Port Townsend High School, Chimacum High School, Jefferson Community School and West Sound Academy in Poulsbo.

Team coach Henry works for Atlas Technologies of Port Townsend and specializes in 3D design and modeling. On top of several heavily involved parents, mentor Darrin Newlander, a U.S. Navy veteran, works closely with the students, specializing in electronics and electronics engineering.

Port Townsend's team is sponsored by the Northwest Maritime Center, Port Townsend High School, Atlas Technologies, the Bezos Family Foundation, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, jSoft Apps and Concur Technologies.

FIRST AND STEM

FIRST is a nonprofit based in Manchester, New Hampshire. It aims to inspire young people ages 6-18 to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge and life skills.

Henry said if the team can afford to go, the students would have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete at a world level. Additionally, the students would have an opportunity to network and build STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) connections that will pay off.

Questions about the robotics team specifically can be answered by coach Henry at 360-775-0147 or the team's outreach manager Rose Ridder at 360-379-4758.

For more information, visit the team's blog at

team4918.org or visit the FIRST website at

usfirst.org.

(The first version of this story appeared April 10 on ptleader.com.)

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