A team of students from South Portland High School will join teams from Bonny Eagle High School and two other Maine high schools heading to St. Louis, Mo., this week to compete in the world championship of robotics.
The so-called Riot Crew team from South Portland and their 5-foot-tall robot named Krugelfang enter the international competition as the state’s highest-scoring robotics team in 2014. About 400 teams from across the country and world are expected to compete.
Each year, individual robotics teams have six weeks to build a wirelessly controlled robot to do certain tasks, and then they test it against the competition in a series of games. Their success at state and regional competitions generates a score for the year. Unlike high school athletics, there is no state championship in robotics, but in order to compete in the world championship, a team must qualify by scoring a sufficient number of points during the season.
Along with South Portland and Bonny Eagle in Standish, other Maine teams going to the competition are Messalonskee High School in Oakland and Old Town High School. Qualifying teams from Gorham and Falmouth high schools chose not to compete, according to South Portland’s coach, Sean Manning.
“Our teams consist of programmers, a pit crew and a drive team. It’s a little bit like NASCAR,” Manning said.
The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotic Competition will be held April 23-26 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
The teams from South Portland and Bonny Eagle high schools – two of the oldest robotics teams in the state – will travel together by bus to St. Louis, departing from Maine on Tuesday morning. South Portland’s team includes 14 students and Bonny Eagle’s has 16.
The two teams are more supporters of each other than rivals, said John DiRenzo, the coach for Bonny Eagle. “We help each other to do our best. We kind of work together,” he said.
Like South Portland, Bonny Eagle’s team has had a lot of success with its robot this year. South Portland was the 12th highest-scoring robotics team in New England. Bonny Eagle was 13th.
But while South Portland has made the trip to the St. Louis championships before, it is a first for Bonny Eagle.
“These kids have not had that opportunity to go to a championship like this and they are pretty excited about it,” DiRenzo said.
The 2014 competition’s theme is called Aerial Assist. An alliance of three teams – in most cases the teams in an alliance don’t know one another – must use robots to move a ball that is 2 feet in diameter down a field made up of three zones. Points are scored by passing the ball to other robots or by throwing the ball into a goal.
Ross Usinger, a senior at Deering High School in Portland, said he was adopted by the Red Riots’ former coach and has remained with the team since he joined in the sixth grade.
“It has become my life over the past seven years,” said Usinger, who is now the team’s captain. He said the top prize is the honor of becoming the best team in the world.
“I think our chances are really good,” said Manning, the coach.
Krugelfang, South Portland’s robot, was shipped to St. Louis last Tuesday.
“It looks like a big wooden box with steamship paddles for arms,” Manning said.
Alexander Manning, Manning’s son, drives the robot when it is on the playing field. He must also develop relationships with other robotics teams that are in his alliance and he is responsible for developing strategies with those teams as they plot ways to win a match.
“I like everything. It’s fun and it’s competitive,” the South Portland High School junior said. His sister, Wendy Manning, is also a member of the team.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: