Central to host robotics tournament

Central Middle School will soon play host to about 20 Indiana robotics teams.

The school will host the Indy-South League Tournament for For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Tech Challenge on Saturday. Opening ceremonies are scheduled begin at 10:15, with matches starting at 10:30 a.m., though these times are subject to change. The event is free and open to the public, said Columbus Robotics mentor Gayatri Adi.

There are 22 teams are scheduled to participate, including Columbus’ two FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) teams: Juden-Ki Robotics (Team 8578) and Kernel Panic (Team 11959). Adi said that both teams have been working hard, and mentors are “quite impressed with their progress.”

“The teams are doing quite well,” she said. “…We’re meeting for an extra practice to do some presentation practice. But from a technical standpoint, the robots are not going to be touched very much between now and the tournament. The kids are pretty happy with their robots, and they have been doing pretty well at the previous events.”

According to FIRST Indiana Robotics, FTC teams are made up of up to 15 team members in grades seven through 12 who design, build, program and operate robots to compete in challenges presented in an alliance format, similar to FIRST Robotics Competitions — albeit on a smaller scale, according to Adi.

“The robot kit is reusable from year to year and can be coded using a variety of levels of Java-based programming,” FIRST Indiana’s website states. “Teams design and build robots, raise funds, design and market their team brand, and do community outreach to earn specific awards.”

This year’s FTC game, “Powerplay,” is presented by Raytheon Technologies. According to a video from FIRST, gameplay involves maneuvering robots around a field to place game pieces in certain areas, thereby scoring points.

Adi said that the fact that the pieces have to be placed at varying heights presents a nice challenge to students and has led to a lot of creativity.

She also noted that whether or not teams advance from Saturday’s tournament to the Indiana FTC State Championship depends not just on their game performance but on whether or not they win certain awards at the event. These awards are tied to factors such as the team’s presentation to judges, technical skills, engineering portfolio and community outreach.

The state championship will be held at the Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds on Feb. 25.

“We’ve had some good outreach opportunities this year, so I think in addition to the technical pieces, the robot, these kids have had quite a bit of opportunity to inspire their community and outside of their community this year, and we’re all just really proud of that,” said Adi.