A team of 25 Fox Valley area high school students will compete in the FIRST Robotics World Finals Wednesday through Saturday in St. Louis.
More than 2,700 teams made up of 68,000 high school students worldwide vied for a spot in the finals at regional, state and international competitions. The Fox Valley area team, PWNAGE Robotics, is among roughly 400 teams that qualified, said Denise Haller of Aurora, one of a dozen parent and professional mentors for the team.
FIRST -- For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology -- oversees the worldwide competition. It was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen in Manchester, N.H., to inspire and motivate students to participate and pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math.
"It's kind of a sport for the mind," Haller said.
The Fox Valley area team is part of the Youth Robotics and STEM Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to support the team.
"It is completely funded by donations from the families and sponsors," Haller said.
Students come from eight area high schools -- Batavia, Burlington Central, Kaneland, Metea Valley, St. Charles East and North, West Aurora and Glenbard North -- and from two middle schools in Batavia and St. Charles. The team built a 120-pound robot that won the Midwest regional competition held earlier this month at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago.
"They ranked first in qualifying," said Haller, whose 18-year-old daughter, McKenna, a senior at Metea Valley High School in Aurora, is on the team. "Half of them were crying. They have worked so hard. The team is five years old and we have never won a regional before. It's a huge achievement."
McKenna got involved with the Fox Valley team three years ago and now plans to study electrical engineering.
"It was a great accomplishment to see something that I made finally succeed," McKenna said. "The team has been trying for five years to win this regional. Every year we've gotten closer and closer."
The team ranks 39th in the world and has an adjusted rank of sixth place based on the robot's best performance against other robots, McKenna said.
The team is sponsored and mentored by Genesis Automation in St. Charles, which provided students use of its machine shop to build the robot. It took six weeks for students to build a robot capable of retrieving and shooting a two-foot-diameter exercise ball into a 10-foot-high goal.
"That's not the only challenge," McKenna said. "It has to work with other teams within our alliance in order to pass the ball, and every pass that you make is more points. It's more like team handball.
"You don't want to be overconfident, but I feel like this is a really good year. And it couldn't be a better way to end my senior year at high school."
Students built one robot for competition, bagged and secured until the finals, and another identical robot for tweaking and practicing using the half-court field at Genesis Automation. Any necessary modifications will be made at the finals.
Students leave Wednesday for the three-day competition at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Robots will be put in teams of three and compete against each other.
Tristan Powell, 16, a sophomore at Kaneland High School in Maple Park, said the biggest challenge with building the robot was keeping everything compact and light, yet sturdy enough so it can take a hit. The robot will have to defend itself against other teams' robots while trying to make a shot, he said.
"We're all very excited and happy to be going and can't wait for it," Powell said. "We have a pretty good shot of making it very far. This is my second year, but my first time going to world finals."