Connor Cole, left, and Preston Fuller of Liberty High School… (Staff Photo by Brian Krista )
There's nothing quite like the feeling of seeing a robot you've created take its first step.
At least that's what Joey Skura, a rising senior at Liberty High School, thinks.
"When it first moves, everyone watching it just goes crazy cheering," Skura said with growing excitement. "When it keeps walking, …it's a great feeling."
As a member of Liberty High School's First Robotics team, the RoboLions, Skura and his fellow teammates captured the top trophy at the Battle o' Baltimore Championship, held Aug. 13 at Woodlawn High School inBaltimore County.
It was the first win for the team at the competition, which featured 21 teams from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
"We were working through the summer to get things ready," said Rose Young, a former teacher at Liberty High School who serves as the mentor for the team. "It was the fifth time we've done this, and the first time to win it."
The Liberty group is a member of FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — an international organization dedicated to spreading science and technology education among students. The school competes as a robotics group as part of the Baltimore Area Alliance (FIRST BAA).
The Robo-Lions team belongs to the highest level of robotics competition, said Young, and that competition is intense during the season, which runs from the first weekend of January through the end of April.
During that period, teams receive the annual challenge, which sets the goals and rules for that year's competition.
"It is always a different challenge," Young said of the feat each team's robot is supposed to accomplish.
Past challenges included throwing a ball into a basket on another robot and getting it to play soccer.
This year, teams were challenged to make their 120-pound, 5-foot-tall robot lift a plastic tube and place it on a hook.
Once the challenge is issued, groups have six weeks to build a robot to meet the task. It is those six "building" weeks, that are the most intense, according to Skura.
"Normally, we work after school every day from 4 to 9 p.m.," Skura said. "During the six weeks we build, we can't really do much of other things, and we don't have much free time.
"It's great," Skura added. "You get to hang around while building a robot. Everybody likes it and stays focused pretty easily, and has fun with it."
Robots aren't cheap. The group spends $5,000 to start, which gets them a kit with some parts and metal wheels. The group can then add to it.
"You can use metal, wood, Plexiglass, rubber, whatever," Young said. "There is a money limit of what you can (spend) on a robot, but we haven't come close before."
But for students with a passion for robots, the cost is worth it. So is the time spent experimenting with gadgets and participating in other events. Many teams, such the Robo-Lions, continue the season by entering events in the summer — such as the Battle O' Baltimore Championship.
This past year, the Robo-Lions even delved into a new arena, creating robot actors.
The team participated in school productions of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" and "Peter Pan." Members worked with the drama department to create two props — a robotic lamppost and robotic crocodile.
The lamppost for "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" won a Cappie Award, an award showcasing student theater talent, for Best Prop.
None of the costs associated with the club are covered by the school. Rather, the supplies for the Robo-Lions are purchased with money raised from fundraisers and donations.
"It is a lot to maintain this level (of competition)," Young admitted of the costs. "The kids themselves do most of the fundraising. It's like running a small business."
For more information on Liberty High School's Robo-Lions team, go to robo-lions.org.