The main gym at Ann Arbor’s sparkling Skyline High School was packed Saturday with two thousand screaming fans and thumping music.

But nobody was trying to put a bouncy orange ball through an orange hoop.

Instead, robots spun, clashed and clanged around a 27-by-54-foot playing field, trying to pick up inflatable tubes and place them on elevated racks.

FIRST Robotics brought one of its district competitions to Skyline Saturday, attracting 40 teams and thousands of spectators. (There’s video of the event at the Great Lakes Innovation and Technology Report’s YouTube page,

Winning teams — and winners of other special awards — at Skline qualified for the state FIRST championships, to be held April 7 and 8 at Eastern Michigan University’s Convocation Center. Parking and attendance at the event are free.

Several winning teams from the state championships will go on to the FIRST World Championships in St. Louis, Mo., April 27-30.

The 40 teams were matched randomly into three-team alliances Friday and Saturday morning for 80 qualification matches.

The top eight teams qualified automatically for the elimintation round, which is done in a best two out of three match competition. In a meeting of all teams, they selected the other two teams for their alliances, based on which teams of the remaining 32 they thought could best help them win. Thus, 24 of the 40 teams qualified for the quarterfinals.

In the quarterfinal round — just as you might expect in an athletic contest — the Nos. 1 and 2 seeded alliances had little trouble with their No. 7 and 8 seeded opposition, advancing to the semifinals in two straight matches. The matches between the Nos. 3 and 6 seeds and the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds both required the full three matches to determine a winner.

In the semifinals, the No. 1-seeded alliance made up of Team 66, the Ypsilanti Willow Run Flyers, Team 494 the Goodrich Martians and Team 2337 the Grand Blanc High School EngiNerds, took just two matches to defeat the No. 4-seeded alliance made up of Team 70, the Goodrich High School More Martians, Team 302, the Lake Orion High School Dragons, and Team 1025, the Ferndale Schools IMPIs. In the second match of the set, Ferndale’s robot broke down and was replaced by Team 3638, the Belleville TigerTrons.

And in the other semifinal, the No. 2-seeded alliance of Team 247, Berkley High School’s Da Bears, Team 548, the Northville High School Robostangs and Team 3098, the Wateford High School Captains, took three games to defeat the No. 3 alliance of Teams 573, the Brother Rice and Marian high schools Mech Warriors, Team 2619, the Midland Public Schools Charge, and Team 3548, the Madison Heights Lamphere High School Battering Rams.

In the final the No. 1-seeded alliance met the No. 2-seeded alliance, and the top seeds required three thrilling matches to win.

This year’s game, Logo Motion, is played bytwo competing alliances on a flat 27-by-54 field. Each alliance consists of three robots. They compete to hang as many inflated plastic shapes — red triangles, white circles, and blue squares, the FIRST logo — on their team’s grid as possible during a 2 minute, 15 second competition. There are three sets of three posts at low, medium and high heights. The higher the teams hang their game pieces on their scoring grid, the more points their alliance receives.

The match begins with a 15-second autonomous period in which robots operate independently of driver inputs and must hang “ubertubes” to score extra points. For the rest of the match, drivers control robots and try to maximize their alliance score by hanging as many logo pieces as possible. Any logo piece hung on the same peg as an Ubertube receives double points. If teams assemble the logo pieces on their scoring grids to form the FIRST logo — triangle, circle, square, in a horizontal row in that order — the points for the entire row are doubled.

The match ends with robots deploying “minibots,” small electro-mechanical assemblies that are independent of the host robot, onto vertical probes. The minibots race to the top of the pole to trigger a sensor and earn bonus points.

FIRST Robotics founder Dean Kamen, a serial entrepreneur and inventor who also invented the Segway transportation device, visited the event Saturday morning. In response to a reporter’s question he said he was surprised FIRST hadn’t taken off faster, but was relieved to see that it had.

“This country is going to cease to exist if we don’t get better at science and technology,” he said. “Government can’t do it. The people and businesses have to do it. And this gets kids fired up about technology. When that happens we all win.”


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