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Apr. 7, 2014 12:15 pm

Hopkins Cup: robots duke it out at second city-sponsored competition

Thirty-eight teams from 19 schools competed for the top prize and other awards for craftsmanship, programming and sportsmanship.

Dominique Hart and Kevin Violenus of Digital Harbor High School test their robot before the opening rounds Saturday morning. Photos by Tyler Waldman.

Update 4/8/14 9:12 a.m.: The volunteer of the year was Deepak Lingam, not Margaret Strong as originally reported. Updated also is Christine Newman's title.

Teams building and programming robots and going against each other for mechanical glory. Sounds like “Robot Wars,” right?

It briefly looked like it in the high school finals at the Hopkins Robotics Cup, as two robots got tangled in one another — that’s not supposed to happen — and a team from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute was briefly disqualified. The bots were triaged and it didn’t stop the team, one of four from Poly (facing another from Poly), from taking the title Saturday at the Newton White Athletic Center on the Homewood campus of the Johns Hopkins University.

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A member of the winning Poly team.

“The refs thought we were trying to flip over another robot,” said Stephen Grabowski of the winning team. “What our team’s driver said was that two robots were trying to score at the same time and the one lift was higher.”

The second annual event featured city middle and high school students building robots to pit against others at their level. Thirty-eight teams from 19 schools competed for the top prize and other awards for craftsmanship, programming and sportsmanship.

“The idea is that the city schools … are doing VEX Robotics and they have teams, but they’re brand new teams and we wanted to give them a chance to shine at the end of the season,” said Christine Newman, assistant dean of engineering education and director of the Center for Educational Outreach at Hopkins.

Teams worked furiously to tweak and test in the weeks leading up to the competition, even in the hour before the opening ceremonies and between events.

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Deontae Atkinson, a student at the Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy, tunes up his team’s robot before the opening rounds.

“This is the first time we’ve ever built a robot so we weren’t aware how much work was going to go into it,” said Poly freshman Samantha Niziolek, who was on a different team from the winning Poly squad, as she made some last-minute adjustments Saturday morning. “When you do something simple like extending the basket so you can get the balls in more, you have to completely change the feeders because they’ll fall right out.”

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A robot in the middle of Toss Up.

Niziolek was referring to Toss Up, the 2013-2014 game all VEX Robotics teams across the U.S. and around the world play to qualify for the VEX Robotics World Championship later this month

Deshawn Johnson, a James McHenry Elementary/Middle School student of the winning JimmyMac team, said it was his team’s first time in the competition.

“I don’t know how we got past, but we actually did. This was a pretty good day for us,” he said. “Building the robot was kind of hard, but it was also kind of fun at the same time.”

He said the team’s last-second tweaks included replacing a faulty battery when their bot began to sputter long before the opening rounds.

In working on their robots during the academic year, students gain programming, physics and problem-solving experience that hopefully will “make them more comfortable with studying the math and science behind those concepts and going to college,” Newman said.

The teams formed alliances based on which other teams’ robots would complement their strengths — scoring or defense — and worked together to move balls from one side of a course and deposit them into and atop tubes at the other end of the course.

Grabowski said he relished the challenge, especially against his classmates.

“The first round was tied and we were very, very hyped for that. We just really love robotics, so competing against strong teams. You get a real adrenaline rush from doing it and we especially enjoy competing against our friends,” he said.

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Poly student Kweisi Wilson fixes his robot after his opponent’s team, also from Poly, crashed into it in the finals Saturday afternoon.

Hopkins Robotics Cup awards:

Besides the honors for the teams from McHenry and Poly, here were some of the other awards handed out at Saturday’s closing ceremonies. Several schools, including Poly and Digital Harbor, sent multiple teams. The team number is added where applicable:

Sportsmanship: The Defenders (team 6298B) from Patterson Park Public Charter School and Black Knights from Baltimore City College

Jaycees leadership award: Electric Sheep (2546A) from Digital Harbor High School

Programming skills: High Tech Parrots (1893F) from Poly

Robot skills: High Tech Parrots (1893F) from Poly

Volunteer of the year: Deepak Lingam

Excellence Awards: Lakeland Lions from Lakeland Elementary Middle School and High Tech Parrots (1893F) from Poly

The full award list from the event will be posted on the Hopkins Robotics Cup website.

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Tyler Waldman

Tyler Waldman is lead reporter for Technical.ly Baltimore. A Towson University graduate and former local editor for Patch.com, Tyler has also written and photographed for publications including the Baltimore Brew, Howard County Times and Towson Times. He lives in Charles Village.

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