CUMBERLAND — A robotics tournament may not be as fast-paced as a high school basketball playoff or as dramatic as a high school theater festival, but there is something mesmerizing about a competition between machines.

That was apparent Saturday at the Greely VEX Robotics Tournament at Greely Middle School, where the audience of family and friends appeared transfixed as mechanical devices fashioned out of metal parts raced around 12-by-12-foot pens stacking red and blue cubes on poles while their human operators manned the controls.

While the event may have lacked the loud cheers and foot stomping of some high school competitions, a palpable ripple of excitement ran through the bleachers every time a team scored a point.

“This is adrenalin. This is geeks on steroids,” said Eliza Adams of Cumberland.

Adams was there to watch her son Oliver Adams, a senior at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone, and his teammates compete against 27 other teams from 15 middle and high schools across the state vying to go on to the next level of competition and the Maine State VEX Championship Feb. 21 at Hampden Academy.

Both the Maine School of Science and Mathematics team and a Greely High team were considered the ones to beat, said Jamee Luce, director of the Robotics Institute of Maine.

“I’ve put a little too much time into robotics. I am constantly thinking about it,” said Oliver Adams, who designed and built his team’s robot, which they dubbed “4393OP.”

The robotics institute was created two years ago when robotics began to catch on in Maine. In the past five years, the number of school robotics teams has grown from 11 to 80 across the state, with about 700 students participating a year.

The institute raises money for robotics teams and organizes the VEX and FIRST Robotics and FIRST Lego competitions. The competitions are designed to get more students interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Luce said that last year all 124 participating high school seniors graduated from high school and all but one went on to the military or college.

The teams have to design and build their robots. They compete in two-minute rounds, including 15 seconds when the robots run on preprogrammed commands written by the students and a minute and 45 seconds with a student at the controls.

John Alling, a senior at Falmouth High School, organized a VEX robotics team as part of his senior project. Alling, who has been involved in robotics all four years of high school, said he enjoys watching his team in competition.

“The atmosphere is very exciting, high energy. We have made a tangible product, it moves and picks up things,” said Alling.

Some of those who show up are there to cheer on their friends and schoolmates.

“It is really impressive to have so many students in a room fixated on one thing,” said Marina Mozak of Bath, who was supporting her schoolmates from Maine School of Science and Mathematics.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.