Rich Drewes
Special to the Bonanza

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February 12, 2014
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Incline student robot teams score big

The competition was fierce but two local robotics teams, “Bricks On the Brain” and “Bolts On the Brain,” have again brought home trophies in competitions in Reno and Las Vegas.

The Incline teams are part of an international competitive robotics league organized by the nonprofit FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).

Founded in 1989 by prolific inventor Dean Kamen to encourage kids to explore science and engineering, FIRST organizes four international competitive robotics leagues for different age levels. These robotics competitions offer all the excitement of skiing or football, with more of a mental challenge.

This season, Incline competed in two of the four FIRST leagues: The FLL program for ages 9-14, and FTC for ages 12-18. FLL requires teams to build and program a robot that will complete a complex set of tasks without human control.

FTC is more of a team sport, like two-on-two basketball with robot players controlled by team members using video-game joysticks. The themes of the challenges change from year to year while the format stays mostly the same.

Incline’s veteran FLL team, named “Bricks On the Brain” after their signature LEGO-decorated helmets, has been active in the FLL program for four years, and has brought home major awards each year.

This season, team members Paul Larson, Parker Fontecchio, Jacob Saunders, Sean Kirkland, Colin Drewes, Gavin Perrell, Conor Drewes, Nathan Barth, Conrad Drewes, and Brian Wiebe competed in the northern Nevada regional competition and managed a heart-stopping come-from-behind victory in the final round of the robotics competition.

The Bricks team is now preparing for the next level of competition, the Open Championship, to be held in Carlsbad, Calif., in May. There they will pit their robot against winning teams from all of the US and Canada.

The Bricks team’s 2012 victory earned them an invitation to the prestigious FIRST World Festival in St. Louis where they met and competed with more than 100 teams from 70 countries.

Meanwhile, some of the older Bricks members (Larson, Fontecchio, Colin and Conor Drewes) tried out the FTC program for the first time this year. FTC robots are bigger and made of metal and other parts, compared to the strictly LEGO-based FLL robots.

At their very first competition ever as a team in Reno in January, the rookie Incline FTC team Bolts On the Brain, partnered with a veteran team from Silver State Charter High School out of Carson, made it into the final round of competition before being narrowly defeated. In their second competition, held early February in Las Vegas, the Bolts team did even better.

A pivotal tournament battle pitted the Bolts team and their alliance partner Team Nova from Folsom, Calif., against veteran Team Tesla from Idaho and the all-girl team The Kings and Queens from Monrovia, Calif. The Incline Bolts and alliance captain Team Nova went on to win the final competition, a surprising feat for the first-year Bolts team.

Both teams plan to reform for next season around August and are looking for new members. Email coach Rich Drewes at drewes@interstice.com to learn more. Information on the four FIRST robotics programs is at http://www.usfirst.org.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Feb 12, 2014 04:18PM Published Feb 12, 2014 02:58PM Copyright 2014 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.