By Amanda Hatfield
NORTH BREVARD -- Two robotics teams from Brevard County rose from the ashes and excelled at a regional competition, aided by the teams they were to compete against.
On March 6, just a mere 10 minutes away from the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology -- or FIRST -- Orlando Regional Competition, a crew transporting the robots of Team Nos. 1592 and 801 was involved in an accident on State Road 50.
Thankfully, occupants of the vehicles involved emerged from the wreck unharmed; the robots both teams had poured hundreds of hours into were destroyed.
"It was incomprehensible that something we had sacrificed so much of our time and energy to create was suddenly gone," said Kelly Rain, mentor to Team No. 1592, also known as The Bionic Tigers.
According to FIRST, robotics is a "varsity sport for the mind, with the competition combining the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology" and is "as close to real-world engineering as a student can get."
Robotics teams are comprised of 25 or more students and are guided by a strict rulebook, limited resources and time limits. These teams are challenged to raise funds, design a team logo and work together to build and program a robot that will execute a series of tasks against competitors.
The task for this year's Orlando Regional Competition was to assemble and program a robot to shoot Frisbees into target areas and climb a 9-foot pyramid.
The damage sustained by the robots of The Bionic Tigers and Team No. 801--also known as Horsepower -- left the robots as little more than scrap.
"The Bionic Tigers' robot was sheared in half, with major structural damage to all parts of the robot and all electronic systems ripped apart," Ms. Rain said. "Horsepower's robot was crushed, also with structural damage, particularly to the base and shooter mechanism."
Word of the accident spread quickly amongst the teams, but members soon composed themselves and met at the Robotics lab of Cocoa High School to survey the damage.
"After taking in the scene, the teams knew that building a new frame was necessary," Ms. Rain added.
Before the bots of both teams could be rebuilt, the judges for the Regional competitions needed to review what was left of the damaged robots.
"On 'Stop Build Day,' the robots must be bagged and tagged -- meaning they are put in sealed bags and cannot be worked on at all until they are unsealed by the judges," Ms. Rain said. "On Thursday, March 7, the FIRST administrators unpacked the robots and inspected the damage."
The Bionic Tigers and Horsepower were granted waivers to use parts from a practice robot the teams had assembled in order to repair what was so horribly broken.
As word of the teams' misfortune continued to spread, other teams at the competition gave Horsepower and The Bionic Tigers whatever spare pieces they had.
"There is a strong sense of community and shared goals, with the teams wanting to win because it was earned, not because their opponent was placed at a disadvantage," Ms. Rain said. "When the other teams heard of our accident, there was an immediate outpouring of support."
With an overwhelming sense of allegiance, the parts donated by the other teams were used to create "Buzz 2.0" and "Neil 2.0."
"Our robots were named after Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong--all a nod to our Space Coast roots," Ms. Rain added.
As "Buzz 2.0" and "Neil 2.0" made their way onto the competition field, the electricity in the arena was palpable.
"Everyone rose in a spontaneous ovation--not just for our teams, but with the excitement of what we were all able to accomplish by working together," Ms. Rain said.
It was through this tremendous team effort that The Bionic Tigers and Horsepower finished seventh in a seeded alliance for the FIRST Orlando Regional Competition.
"In FIRST, help from your competition is actually not the exception, but the rule," Ms. Rain said. "Members regularly exhibit 'Gracious Professionalism' as the norm. It is molded on every level of the organization; it's just the way it is."
For more information about FIRST, visit www.usfirst.org.
Team 801, Horsepower, is made up of students from Merritt Island High School, Edgewood Junior/Senior High School, Jefferson Middle School and Merritt Island Christian.
Team 1592, The Bionic Tigers, is made up of students from Cocoa High School and Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy.