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SARATOGA COUNTY – Two local robotics teams stole the show at a recent regional competition, paving the way for their trips to the national level in April.

Robotics club teams from the Ballston Spa and Schuylerville school districts competed at the NY Tech Valley FIRST Robotics competition, a regional division of the FIRST Robotics Competition, an international youth event designed to give student practical engineering experience.  Each school put in strong work at the competition, which ran from March 16-18 at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, with Ballston Spa receiving the prestigious Chairman’s Award, and Schuylerville finishing in second place and putting up the highest score of the weekend during the quarterfinals, 450 points.  Both teams will be competing at the national championships in St. Louis, MO, which will run from April 26-29.

At the regional competition, teams were challenged to design and build robots that could receive and place gears, fire wiffle balls, and climb five feet.  Each challenge would net the teams a certain amount of points, and it was up to the teams which actions they designed their machines to specialize in.  Ballston Spa chose to design a robot that could do all three actions, with club advisor and coach Darrel Ackroyd being particularly proud of the machines ability to place gears by itself.

We can receive gears from the human player station and place the gear on the peg via an active placement of the gear,” Ackroyd said.  “Most teams have a passive gear system where the pilot has to pull the gear out of the robot.”

Schuylerville, on the other hands, chose to focus on gear-placing and climbing, as they determined that shooting wiffle balls would be too difficult to design for, and would not yield as many point as the other challenges.

Every team competing in the FIRST Robotics competition was informed of the challenges they would face in January, and then had six weeks to design and build the robot they would take to the competition.  After that, their machine had to be submitted, or “bagged and tagged,” so that they could not utilize it again before the competition weekend.  Both teams, however, built practice robots at the same time as their competition robots, so that they could continue practicing after the six week time limit. 

“Our robot performed incredibly and we won quarterfinals,” Ackroyd said about his team’s performance.  “We came up short in semi finals, but our alliance with Cambridge and Troy was a great one to be apart of in eliminations.”

“I couldn’t have ask for anymore,” said Mark Belden, advisor and coach for the Schuylerville team.  “We’re not a big team, but we went right out there.  Our team, our mentors, our alliance partners… it went as well as I could’ve expected.”

This will be Ballston Spa’s third time competing at the national level, and their second time in a row, having made it to the finals at RIT last year.  This will also be Schuylerville’s second year in a row competing at nationals.  Neither team has won at that level, but they are hopeful heading into the event. 

We are making changes to our climber and gear mechanism for our competition this weekend at Rockland County,” Ackroyd said.  “I feel with these changes we should be a top-performing robot at the competition”

“We’re feeling really good,” Belden said.  “Some other teams we competed against have already gotten in touch with us with suggestions.”

Schuylerville is currently raising money to help fund their trip to St. Louis.  Belden estimates that it will cost around $20,000 to transport the team.  They will be hosting a spaghetti dinner and raffle to help raise funds on March 31 in the elementary school cafeteria, from 5-8 p.m.  Donations can also be made directly at www.gofundme.com/schuylerville-robotics-team-4508.

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