By the end of the morning events at the Illinois VEX Robotics state championships, several members of four different teams had gathered around a monitor with a scrolling list of the standings among the 30 teams. There was still a half-day worth of matches, but all the teams shared the same opinion of the team at the top of the heap at that point in the day.
"Cobalt is awesome," one middle-school robot designer said. Five other participants nodded their heads in agreement, then went to chow down some pizza before moving on to the afternoon competition.
Cobalt came into the day as last year's defending national champion in both the design and build categories for robots. And the team members, four girls, were rocketing up the world rankings for their programming ability.
They weren't too worried what the afternoon would bring. Their steepest competition, the Steel Pythons, were going to team up with them in an effort to create an unstoppable robotic combo.
Cobalt spent six months, meeting up to three days a week, constructing a robot that would be accurate, powerful and fast. Those are three skills key in winning matches in a game called "Toss Up."
The game occurs on a 12-foot by 12-foot enclosed field. There are two teams on each side, a red alliance and a blue. The object is to score more points than the other alliance by navigating large and small balls into scoring zones, collecting them in goal baskets and/or hanging your robot from a colored bar, at various heights, at the end of the match.
Your ally in one game can be your opponent in the next depending on the draw and the results. Cobalt wasn't worried about any of that. The secret was in their scouting. A laminated paper, about the size of a quarterback's cheat sheet, showed a series of strategies.
"We have all these different driver strategies depending on what opponents we have and what kind of robots they have," said Cobalt team member Sue Park.
Park and her teammates Katie Miller and sisters Gabby and Mia Garbaccio have all been on the team for between one and three years. In that time, they've seen the competition grow.
This year 150 families are listed as members of the Fox Valley Robotic and Batavia Robotics club, which team Cobalt is a part of. That's about 25 percent more than last year.
Ron Karabowicz, the organizer of the event, said the popularity of the competition stems from a renewed interest in parents wanting to invoke creativity in their children.
The teams with the most points at the end of the day weren't the only ones to receive trophies. Judges, based on both performance and pre-competition interviews, also gave awards for creativity, innovation in design, team work and other aspects of the competition.
More information is at foxvalleyrobotics.com.