Dallastown hosts FIRST robotics competition

Christopher Dornblaser

People packed the gymnasium at Dallastown Intermediate School for the FIRST Tech Challenge Championship tournament, where 36 robotics teams from Pennsylvania and surrounding states competed to earn a spot in the East Super Regional competition.

A button on the robotic display belonging to Team RobotiX from Pittsburgh during the First Tech Challenge at Dallastown Area Intermediate School Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. Randy Flaum photo

During the event, 36 previously qualifying teams, from various clubs, schools and independent organizations, came together to complete a pre-determined game. The event: The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Tech Challenge Championships, sponsored by Penn State York, took place at the Dallastown Intermediate School due to renovations at Penn State York's gym. Penn State York has sponsored the event.

Watching their robot move along the competition course is, from left: Connor Cavey, Adam Li and Judson Friedi of team 'Le Pamplemmousse' from Freedom High School in Bethlehem, PA., during the First Tech Challenge at Dallastown Area Intermediate School Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. Randy Flaum photo - raflaum@comcast.net

The teams are comprised students in grades seven to 12. The students learned this past September which game they would play during the competitions. After learning the game, the students then spent time building a robot that would best be able to play the game. In each competition, two teams are paired up randomly to compete during the game.

This year's game was called "FIRST RES-Q," a game modeled after rescue situations on mountains. The two teams scored points by resetting rescue beacons, delivering climbers to shelters, and parking on the mountain, along with other actions.

The experience: Geeta Lalvani, a sophomore competing with Harrisburg's Covenant Christian Academy under the name (In)Formal logic, said her time with her robotics team has been good, adding that she has learned a lot of skills this year, the first year they are competing. During the first 30 seconds of the game, the robot needs do its job uncontrolled, an "autonomous" period, so the teams have to program it to do what it needs to do. Next, the teams gain control of their robots and finish the competition. The teams are given points based on their actions during both the autonomous and driver-controlled scoring.

Geeta Lalvani, a member of the (In) Formal Logic team at Covenant Christian Academy in Harrisburg, controlls the robot ?during the First Tech Challenge at Dallastown Area Intermediate School Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. Randy Flaum photo - raflaum@comcast.net

"This has been an amazing experience for me," Lalvani said. Even though it is a competition, Lalvani said, she enjoyed the experience.

"We're all very friendly with each other," she said.

Marshall Coyle, professor at Penn State York and event coordinator, said he was impressed by the way the students acted around one another.

"You'll never see any negativity at these events," he said.

Coyle said the experience is great for the younger generation because it teaches them important skills, such as coding, which they normally would not learn in the classroom.

"What you see is just the competition out here. That's just the tip of the iceberg," he said, adding that the teams participate in other activities, such as community service.

Mike Helm traveled from Dayton, Ohio to watch his 18-year-old son compete. His son has been involved with robotics off an on for three years and Helm thinks the experience has been good.

"It's certainly a really positive thing," he said. "I wish I would have had something like this when I was young."

Helm said the participants are always positive during the events, adding that even when the teams don't win, they're still positive.

After the qualification matches are complete, semifinals start, and teams selected for semifinals may choose their teammates. At the end of the competition, the top seven teams advance on to the East Super Regional competition in Scranton in March. From there, they can move onto the final round of championships.

The seven teams that advanced are: Rhyme Know Reason, from Wilmington, Del.; Robotic Doges, from Hollsopple Pa.; G-FORCE, from McHenry, Maryland; Sab-BOT-age from Downingtown, Pa.; Watts Up? from Edison, NJ; Steel Serpents, from Pittsburgh; and Enderbots, from Corning, NY.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at cdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com