OAKLAND — The Messalonskee High School Infinite Loop Robotics Team 2648 recently took on the world at the FIRST 2012 Championship in St. Louis.

Not only did the locals place third among 100 teams in their division, they came away transformed by the event.

“It’s hard to capture the essence of what about it makes it life-changing,” said team adviser Jamee Luce, who is also a math teacher at the high school.

“It’s not something we do, it’s who we are,” she said.

And who they are turned out to be impressive.

Senior Nickolas Ferguson, who drove the robot during a 1-point victory, described the experience as thrilling and addictive.

“The excitement and adrenaline were pretty profound,” said Ferguson, who plans to attend the University of Maine to study chemical engineering. “It was a big moment.”

Luce said the squad had reasonable expectations heading into the Rebound Rumble meet at Edward Jones Dome on April 26, where 399 other squads from Canada, Israel, Mexico and Taiwan, as well as California, Florida, Hawaii and Texas, competed for the world crown.

Luce said Messalonskee had hoped to be in the top half of the 100 teams in its Archimedes division, named for the Greek astronomer, engineer and mathematician.

The team quickly surpassed that expectation.

After its first four matches on the opening day, the squad was in the top 10.

On the second day, in front of about 30,000 fans, the team stayed on a roll.

At one point, for about 10 minutes, Luce said Messalonskee was ranked No. 1.

“We were trying to enjoy the moment,” Luce said. “But mostly we were in disbelief. All the other teams were coming to see our robot.”

She add that “it’s still like telling somebody else’s story. It’s surreal.”

Messalonskee was eliminated on the third day during the quarterfinal, and finished with a 6-3 record.

A team from Oshkosh, Wis., completed the competition with a 9-0 mark in the Archimedes division and a squad from Ontario wrapped up with an 8-1 record.

Since early January, the Infinite Loop Robotics Team 2648 logged long hours preparing for the season’s challenge — Rebound Rumble.

About 2,000 other teams around the world received the same challenge, instructions and equipment: motors, batteries, a control system, a personal computer and automation components.

They had six weeks to design, build, program and test their 120-pound robots to prepare for matches in which their robots tried to toss balls through basketball hoops during a 2-minute, 15-second match. The robots also had to attempt balancing on a bridge.

Messalonskee earned its way to the world championship, which is sponsored by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), by winning the Engineering Inspiration Award at a Worcester Polytechnic Institute meet.

The team continued to rethink, redesign and retool its robot based on its performance at meets and from ideas gleaned from competitors.

Luce said it can be difficult to explain robotics, because it isn’t comparable to playing a sport.”

The Robot “doesn’t get tired. You can’t get mad at it,” Luce said. “And it’s not like you’re going to get tired running the joystick.”

While the competition’s focus is on brains in terms of computer programming and engineering, there is one brawn factor.

Sophomore Robert Klein represented the “human player” for Messalonskee.

He said his favorite part of the competition in St. Louis was draining two baskets during one early match.

Klein’s teammates have teased him though, because while the video photographs balls going through a hoop, it didn’t capture Klein taking the shots.

Ferguson laughed, explaining that most of the attention during matches is on the robot.

After each day’s competition, the team had a chance to socialize with peers from around the world.

Junior captain Sabine Fontaine said one night Mainers got together with teens from Israel for a barbecue and Frisbee.

After a few days of rest last week, the squad was set to prepare for its fun spring matches and to recruit schoolmates to join the squad.

“Some day we’ll be as good as the big-name teams,” Luce said. “And this was a step in the right direction.”

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]


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