WVU MARS hosts the third annual WVRoX competition

MORGANTOWN — The basketball courts at WVU’s Student Recreation Center became the site of a fierce competition, not between ball players, but between robots, built, programed and driven by high-schoolers.

WVU Mountaineer Area Robotics (MARS) hosted the third West Virginia Robotics Extreme (WVRoX) Friday. WVRoX is a 26-hour, 14-minute endurance competition — the only one of its kind in the world.

MARS head coach Earl Scime said each team would compete in 26 qualification matches and at least two semifinals matches. That’s like competing in three regional events back-to-back, he said.

The competition drew 23 teams from around the country, and one team journeyed from China to compete.

Madeline Sorensen, of MARS outreach and public relations, said the primary goal of the competition was to transport “blocks” — milk crates in a canvas case — and put them onto a 6-foot-high scale in the middle of the arena.

Each half of the arena was randomly assigned to the red or blue team, who had to weigh down the scale on their side. Holding the scale gave points at predetermined intervals. Teams could also earn points by holding switches in a similar manner and blocks could also be used to earn power-ups like point multipliers, she explained.

“If the rookies can survive today, they can survive the season,” Cameron Carey, 16, said.

The Robo Jackets, Carey’s team, traveled from Auburn Hills, Mich., to compete and he said the primary goal in his mind was getting experience for the team’s rookies in the off-season.

“I love engineering and creating,” the rising junior said.

Those passions are shared by everyone at the competitions and Carey said his favorite part of robotics competitions is being around people like him.

Matches are two-and-a-half minutes long and the first 30 seconds is the “autonomous phase,” where the robot can only do what it was pre-programmed for, Sorensen said. After that drivers take over and manually control the robot.

In addition to drivers, teams are made up of pit crews that maintain the robot and scouts that collect data on the performance of other robots, Carey said.

Robo Jackets weren’t the only team using the off-season competition for practice. Brayden Cheek, 17, said he was using the competition to train new drivers — including himself. Cheek is a member of Lakota Robotics of Liberty Township, Ohio.

What does winning the marathon length competition get you?

“Insane bragging rights,” Sorensen said.

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