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July 11, 2013

Norman Advanced Robotics battle bots in finals

NORMAN — The crowd was tense and restless as they waited for the final match to begin. They ignored the chairs and bleachers surrounding the challenge area, instead crowding in to press as close as possible to the waist-high barrier that held them back.

Surrounded by the sea of eager onlookers, two gleaming metal machines waited for the timer to start. Suddenly, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” filled the air.

The final round of the International Botball Tournament, a double-elimination round between Norman Advanced Robotics and the Dead Robot Society, had begun.

Botball is a robotics competition for middle school and high school students. Teams from 28 states and four different countries spend months building and programming autonomous robots which can perform tasks without being actively controlled. They document their progress as they work, preparing educational, promotional or instructional websites and videos. It’s hard work, but the students seem delighted to do it.

“We love the robots and we love each other,” said Laura Johnston, a member of the Dead Robot Society.

Once they’ve finished their bots, students gather for regional conferences, pitting their mechanical creations against each other. The robots are placed in miniature obstacle courses, where they must earn points by manipulating a variety of objects.

For example, a bot might scoop up brightly colored pom-poms from the floor. Moving green pom-poms into a designated area will earn the bot’s team points, but accidentally including the orange pom-poms mixed in will detract points.

Teams that make it through their regional tournament head for internationals, hosted this year in the Embassy Suites Conference Center in Norman.

The atmosphere buzzes with tension and focus as students race back and forth from their groups’ tables to the five challenge centers, discussing strategy and making last-minute adjustments to a dazzling variety of whirring, wheeling machines.

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