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San Diego Student Robots Launch Balls, Careers

Photo caption:

Photo by Kyla Calvert

Students from Kearny High School make adjustments to their robot with a FIRST Robotics volunteer working with to get the robot ready and qualified for the eighth annual San Diego competition, March 6, 2014.

San Diego's annual high school robotics competition starts Friday.

The work pits on the floor of the Valley View Casino Center on Sports Arena Boulevard were buzzing with drills and excited high schoolers Thursday.

Sixty teams were getting ready for the two days of tournaments at San Diego's annual FIRST Robotics Competition. They were putting the finishing touches on the robots they had just six weeks to build, getting them inspected and qualified by the competition's judges and testing out their creations in the tournament ring.

Teams had to figure out how to build robots that weighed no more than 120 pounds and could throw large balls across the playing field through hoops, over a bar and to other robots. The robot that does these things best will take its team of builders to the FIRST Robotics worldwide finals in St. Louis next month.

The reigning First Robotics champs are from High Tech High in Point Loma. Nathan Rozenberg, a High Tech High senior, said he feels like the other teams look up to them this year. He joined the robotics team because he loves math and science, but the six-week building period isn't his favorite part of the season.

“I gotta say it’s the competitions, coming here and seeing everything, working together, meeting other teams, it’s a great time,” he said.

But Rene Haro, a volunteer who works with the High Tech High students, said the teammates in the program are doing more than having fun.

“It teaches the students what they like or don’t like and gives them a direction and an opportunity to look and try out different skills within one given program,” he said.

Haro knows that first-hand. He was introduced to robotics through a high school team and now works as a systems analyst. Down the next aisle of work pits from the High Tech High team, Kearny High School junior Katie Truong saw herself taking a path similar to Haro's. She is her team's mechanical engineer and plans to making that one of her majors when she enrolls at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.

“Electrical wiring makes me feel like I’m a part of something different," she said. "I’m the one that makes sure everything connects together.”

Coming to the competitions and meeting the professionals who volunteer at the events makes Truong feel like the team is more than a hobby.

“(It) makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger," she said. "Bringing in NASA to these events, it’s inspiring to people who want to pursue engineering and mechanical engineering.”

The robot tournament runs from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Friday and from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday. The tournaments and student work pits are open to the public.

Admission is free.


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