Though there were more than a thousand people cheering on high school students Friday, the hand-built robots stole the show.
The 12th annual Palmetto Regional FIRST Robotics Competition continues Saturday with 66 teams from across the nation and Canada. The event is a three-day competition showcasing robots built, programmed and operated by high school students and their mentors.
Eleven schools from Horry County competed Friday afternoon, including the Academy for Technology and Academics in Conway. Victoria Shultz, senior at ATA, said she joined the robotics team for the hands-on experience.
“I like building things with my hands, so this was a good extracurricular activity,” she said. “And I’m learning how to communicate with people and work as a team, which are good skills for a future career.”
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This year’s game, called Recycle Rush, encouraged students to build a robot that could stack plastic crates and carry large cans while dodging bright green pool noodles that represented litter. Isaah Bass, junior at ATA, said programming a robot for those sort of tasks will help him in his future engineering career.
“Pretty much everything we do is fun, but I’m learning to program the bot without sitting in a classroom,” Bass said.
Each team had six weeks to complete the robot. After every competitive round students have time to make repairs or recalibrate the machine if necessary.
“These students learn how to overcome obstacles on the fly,” said Meri Smith, ATA robotics coach. “It gives them a safe place to solve problems quickly, without having to worry if they’ll lose their job over it.”
Myrtle Beach High School’s team had some problems of their own Friday. Their robot performed well during the first round but wouldn’t budge in the second round, Dylan Czupik, sophomore, said.
“We really had to work together to figure out what was wrong,” Czupik said.
Several students said they wanted careers as engineers or programmers, but Mariah Nuckles-Johnson, Aynor High School senior, said she prefers the business aspect of the competition.
“The competition is much more than people think,” Nuckles-Johnson said. “We have to go out and gather sponsors who pay for our materials and competition costs, which gives us good business experience.
“Instead of just getting science and technology skills, robotics gives you business knowledge and communication skills too,” she said.
Aynor librarian and robotics mentor Dawn James said the event promotes “gracious professionalism” between all schools – even rivals – since everyone is encouraged to share parts and manpower if necessary. The ability to communicate with competitors is important, especially in the workplace, James said.
The ability to bounce back from disaster is another necessary skill, according to Sara Edmonds, parent of a Socastee High School junior.
“It’s really good practice for them to see that everything doesn’t always happen like you plan,” Edmonds said. “So this competition teaches them how to move forward with what they have.”
The event, which is in it’s third year the the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, continues Saturday with more qualifying matches, final rounds and an awards ceremony. To learn more about FIRST Robotics, visit www.myrtlebeachfirstrobotics.com.