FARMINGDALE — Tevin Huff’s robot scooted around the “field” set up for the VEX robotics competition Saturday at Hall-Dale High School, grasping yellow star-shaped game pieces with its metal claws, raising them up as Huff worked the controls to release the claws, and flinging each game piece up and over a metal gate onto his opponent’s side of the field, scoring points as he went, to help win a qualifying round.

Not bad for someone who, after he’d finished designing and building his robot, had only a day to practice controlling it.

Huff, a junior from Somerset Career and Technical Center in Skowhegan who built the robot with a fellow student, said it took about 48 hours to build, which only left him about a day to practice with the remote controls that guide the wheeled metal robot, which looked somewhat like a super-sized Erector Set. He said getting the bugs out of the robot, once it was designed and assembled, was the most challenging part.

“I love it. I just like being able to build something, and being in competition,” he said of his first robotics competition.

Some 36 robotics teams made up of middle and high school students from several Maine schools competed at the VEX robotics event.

It was hosted by Hall-Dale High School’s REM Delta Prime Robotics Team, with students running numerous aspects of the event. The team competes in similar but separate and more complex robotics events.

While some team members secretly might have preferred to be competing in the event themselves, instead of hosting it, Hall-Dale senior William Fahy, business manager and public relations coordinator for the team, said they also appreciate the importance of organizing events that bring new students into robotics to grow interest in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — education.

“It’s nice to be able to help educate people about STEM, You’re trying to get the young leaders of tomorrow interested in STEM,” Fahy said. “Science and technology is the thing that drives society forward. It makes people’s lives better.”

He said the event was months in the planning. Concessions sales at the event help fund the Hall-Dale team’s operations, which Fahy said can have a budget of $20,000 to $40,000 a year, depending on how much money it raises with its partners and what type of robots it builds. Last year the team competed using a robot that was 6 feet tall and weighed more than 120 pounds.

The robots in action Saturday were considerably smaller. Each was designed and built by students, using roughly the same materials — wheels, electric motors, pieces of metal, and controllers.

Students build the robots by themselves or with a partner.

“They all come up with something completely on their own. There are no plans for these at all,” said Kim McEwan, a Somerset Career and Technical Center teacher. “I don’t tell them what to design. I want them to come up with their own ideas.”

Competitors score points in a number of ways, but in general the idea is to put more game pieces onto your opponent’s side of the field than they put in yours, by pushing them under or lifting them up and over a roughly foot-high metal gate.

Andrew Todd, a senior at Somerset Career and Technical Center, with a robot he and another student had built, took first place in a regional competition and third in the state event last year, with a robot named Ronin.

This year, with a robot he built by himself, named Hayden, Todd, in a qualifying round, managed to pitch a few stars over the gate separating the competing teams but then ran into problems, his robot not cooperating and no longer lifting both of its claws up into the air.

The problem, he said after the round concluded, was that a motor that controls one of the robot’s two claws overheated and shut down, making it impossible to lift up the game pieces completely.

He said the only way to get it to start working again is to turn it off and back on again, like a malfunctioning computer.

“Obviously, you can’t do that during the competition,” Todd said after carrying his robot out of the ring to bring it back to the “pits,” a work area set up in the cafeteria, to prepare robot Hayden for its next round of competition.

Teams competing Saturday also included Cape Elizabeth High School, Yarmouth High School, John Bapst Memorial High School, Traip Academy, Spruce Mountain High School, York High School, Boothbay Region High School, Hampden Academy, and Deering High School.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj