BRUNSWICK, Maine — Robots descended upon Southern Maine Community College’s Brunswick campus on Tuesday morning, sending young people there into a near-frenzy. But it was a learning experience, not an invasion.
About 50 teens from Portland, Lewiston and Kennebunk high schools gathered at the campus on the former Navy base to pit their robots against each other for what most closely resembled robotic volleyball.
The robots, featuring scoops, claws and shovels, moved balls into the opposing team’s “court.” In the end, the real competition came from the students’ ability to adapt their technology, not the robots’ skill at serving and volleying.
Displayed on desks around the school’s Advanced Manufacturing Lab, teams continued to modify designs until heading to their two-minute matches — and then adjusted them further after seeing their robots compete against others.
“Our motor has an axle going through it, which is all connected to a drive gear, and those are attached to our wheels,” said 18-year-old Kyle Ridley of Lewiston Regional Technical Center.
“It gives it more torque,” said Ripley’s teammate, Ben Lowit, 17, also a senior. “And it has double motors for strength.”
Funded by a Bank of America grant, the students received the kits, by Vex Robotics, in October and “kind of winged it” with the initial designs before tweaking them to gain more success in Tuesday’s competition.
Ridley and Lowit were confident that their “scoop” design would grab more of the round and football-shaped foam balls than the robots relying on claw- and spoon-shaped tools.
The competition aimed to teach students about science, technology, engineering and mathematics — and perhaps generate interest in the college’s pre-engineering program, through which students can earn an associate’s degree and then study another three years in the University of Maine program in Orono.
In Tuesday’s first round, the Lewiston duo prevailed, besting a robot built by a Portland High School team. Portland sophomores Robyn Ritchie and Anna Freund, both 16, were among team members to identify the flaw in their design.
“We moved one of the motors to have better control,” Ritchie said.
Lewiston teams continued their victorious run throughout Tuesday’s competition.
“This competition is designed to engage students with hands-on learning and real engineering challenges,” Jim Whitten, dean of the SMCC Midcoast Campus, said in a release. “It is our goal to inspire and encourage them toward further learning and careers in these fields.”
For Ridley and Lowit, the program may have done just that. Ridley hopes to attend the University of Maine, and Lowit would like to go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Wentworth Institute of Technology or a similar school to study computer engineering.