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Published: Wednesday, 7/19/2006

Robotics team goes to 'Darkside'

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Tucked away in a closet in Camp Miakonda's Council Lodge, Darkside waited.

Although Darkside can outplay some people on the basketball court, it requires human assistance to get rolling. With members of the Cat Attack robotics team at the controls, Darkside emerged and hit the floor running.

The crowd went wild as the brainless robot deftly fired off a bunch of basketballs.

"Cool! That's so cool," several Sylvania and Toledo area young-sters said as they watched the robotics demonstration during a day camp program last week.

"It is really cool that it can do basketball," said 8-year-old Josh Bolander, twirling a coonskin cap in his hand.

On this hot, muggy morning, Darkside didn't break a sweat as it went through its routine that left the youngsters begging for another display of the robot's athletic prowess.

Chris Woodard, a senior engineering student at the University of Toledo, explained to the audience that members of Cat Attack built the robot in about six weeks. Mr. Woodard is a former Cat Attack team member.

Cat Attack's official competition season kicked off in January when information was unveiled about the type of robot that would be required this year.

Student teams that participate in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology competitions build robots from a kit of hundreds of parts. The game this year, called "Aim High," tested the students' ability to program a vision system allowing the robot to navigate - and to launch foam balls through hoops and plunk them into floor goals.

During competitions, the student-built robots essentially played three-on-three basketball; at times, playing offense, and then switching to defense, Mr. Woodard said.

During FIRST events this year, the Cat Attack team won some high honors, including a first-place finish in a regional contest that qualified the team for the national finals.

Cat Attack placed fourth during the national championship in Atlanta, where 340 teams from seven countries competed.

Finals were played in front of more than 10,000 people in the stadium and the event was broadcast on CNN and NASA TV.

The event concluded weeks of competition involving over 1,130 teams from the United States and six other nations, including Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, Israel, Mexico, and the United Kingdom.

About 20 students from the Sylvania area belong to the Cat Attack team. Most of them attend Northview High School, including Katie Schafer, who was one of several freshmen on the team.

Considering that it was a "rebuilding year" because several veteran team members were graduated last year, "we were happy with how well we did," Katie said. "We all worked together. Engineering is a group effort."

Many students who participate in the FIRST program go on to become engineers, she said.

It costs $6,000 for a team to register for the FIRST game, Cat Attack team members said. For that fee, each team gets two big boxes of parts to use to build a robot.

To offset the registration fee, Cat Attack conducts fund-raising activities, including a lawn mower winterization program. Students clean and sharpen blades, tune up engines, and power wash the mowers for area residents.

Financial support, as well as technical support, is provided by Dana Corp., one of the team's sponsors. "Dana engineers were our mentors," Katie said.

The Cat Attack team formed seven years ago; this is the fifth summer that the team has presented demonstrations during the day camp.



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