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Dexter High School's Dreadbot Enters First Robotic Competition

Team members compete against 39 schools in weekend robotics tournament.

The Dexter High School Robotics Team competed with their Dreadbot for the first time at the robotics meet at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor on Friday and Saturday. Attending the meet were five DHS students, and five adult mentors, as well as 39 other teams from across southeastern Michigan.

About 1,000 people attended the tournament, which included an elimination match.

The object of the tournament was to design a robot that would be able to pick up inner tubes and hang them from hooks set at varying heights, whether on its own during the first 30 seconds of each match or while being operated by drivers during the remaining two minutes of each match. At the end of the tournament, the robots would deploy a mini-robot (called a minibot) that would climb up and down a pole.

"The good teams can hang six tubes in two minutes," Jonathan Coffer, one of the adult mentors on the DHS team said. "We're hanging two tubes. We're on our way."

He said that the competition was difficult, but that the team kept making improvements to their robot throughout the weekend.

"We're learning a lot. The first time is a lot harder than the practice. It's kind of like shooting hoops. You're great in your driveway, but at the game you have people shooting against you," said Jim Bryson, an adult mentor.

Next week, the team has another meet in Livonia.

"We'll do a whole lot better, there," Bryson said.

During Saturday's tournament, the Dexter team suffered a few setbacks early on, with a defective claw on the robot that was not working. During the match, the team was unable to make the robot arm reach the high hooks, though it did manage to hang two inner tubes. However for the first time during the weekend, the team was able to deploy its minibot.

"Our minibot worked!" team member Elise Dombkowski exclaimed.

Team member Ian Cook said he enjoyed working with the teams to create something that actually moved and followed commands.

"I never thought I would go to high school and build a robot. I thought that was something people in a university did," he said.

Dombkowski said she enjoyed the experience of working on the robot from designing to building.

"It was fun to try everything," she said.

Sam Vivacqua, 12, of Dexter watched the robot competition from the sidelines.

"I think it's really cool that the high school gets to do this," he said, adding that he had made smaller robots at summer camp.

He said he plans to join the robotics team when he enters high school.

The Dexter Dreadbot is a robot designed and built by the team from parts gleaned from sponsors like Lowe's and of Dexter, and from a kit that included software, a computer, batteries and other parts, worth $20,000, donated by FIRST Robotics, which also gave the team $6,000 to spend on registration in the tournament and for miscellaneous parts. The robot weighs 130 pounds, and is comprised of about 150 parts.

Bryson said the Dexter team received a lot of encouragement and help from the Chelsea High School team during the last month leading up to the tournament.

"They were like big brothers," he said.

Coffer said that Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, a personal transport vehicle, and founder of FIRST Robotics, spoke at the opening of the meet, encouraging the students to let others know about how much they enjoyed robotics.

"Dean wants to get the word out," Bryson said. "Not enough people know about (robotics opportunities)."

For more information about the Dexter Robotics Club, visit the high school's website.

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