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Circuit court

Teen engineers-in-training test their robotbuilding skills on the hardwood for hoops.

Charles Martin March 28th, 2012

With NCAA’s March Madness reaching a fever pitch, there’s another chance to witness displays of nerves of steel and laser-accurate shooting. From Thursday to Saturday, Cox Convention Center will host the Oklahoma Regional FIRST Robotics Competition. This year’s theme is “Rebound Rumble.”

Oklahoma Regional FIRST Robotics Competition 


Cox Convention Center

1 Myriad Gardens

Featuring four basketball goals at each end of the court and seesawing ramps in the middle, the event pits statewide high schools’ hand-built robots against one another, capable of picking up foam basketballs and delivering them to a firing system that will shoot the balls toward the hoops.

Students and their industry mentors had only six weeks from the reveal of this year’s challenge for planning, part ordering, assembly and testing.

Parts alone could take two weeks to arrive, according to Wesley Liao, sophomore captain of the Liao Robotics Club — aka the Lightsabers, named rookie of the year in 2010’s competition — leaving less time to build. With the short time frame, planning ahead is key, but difficult.

“That was a big debate: whether to maneuver really well and shoot a bunch or just make every shot count,” Liao said. “We decided accuracy would be most important.”

He said above each basket appears retro-reflective tape, similar to a bicycle reflector.

“That way,” Liao said, “we can use cameras on the robot that can sense where the goal is and accurately shoot the ball.”

Coach Vince Liao said the competition’s true value is teaching collaboration; mentors and students work hand-in-hand to overcome engineering, mathematic and programming issues, not to mention search for funding. He believes that linking budding engineers with industry veterans in such a manner is the best way to give students a real-life glimpse into potential career paths.

“We try to talk everything out,” he said. “The solutions usually come out when we are all together.”

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