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Alex Ferguson, a student at Wiesbaden Middle School, and his mother, Tara, talk about Wiesbaden High School RoboWarriors Club’s entry in last year’s FIRST robotics contest. Alex’s brother Taylor, a freshman at the high school, will be competing in this year’s competition.
Alex Ferguson, a student at Wiesbaden Middle School, and his mother, Tara, talk about Wiesbaden High School RoboWarriors Club’s entry in last year’s FIRST robotics contest. Alex’s brother Taylor, a freshman at the high school, will be competing in this year’s competition. (Mark Patton / S&S)

WIESBADEN, Germany — Science buffs at Wiesbaden High School found out Saturday they will be designing a soccer-playing robot as part of a worldwide competition.

Members of the school’s RoboWarriors Club and their mentors, supporters and family members viewed a webcast announcing the challenge posed by this year’s FIRST Robotics Contest.

The contest asks students to design and construct a robot with a supplied kit of parts for a specific task that varies each year. Last year, in honor of the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing on the moon, the robots were designed to pick up rocks on the moon.

FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is a Manchester, N.H.-based not-for-profit organization that was established to stimulate children’s interest in science, engineering and technology.

This year’s contest, dubbed “Breakaway,” calls for robots to compete in a 27-by-54-foot soccer field featuring three zones separated by bumps. Extra points are awarded if robots climb towers atop the bumps in their efforts to move balls toward the goals. Students face a multitude of choices, including what type of tires to equip the robot with and how to make it “see.”

“This year’s game is much more complicated,” said Nicholas McCormick, a senior who belonged to last year’s team. “Last year, I spent over 250 hours on the robot, so this year I will probably spend over 300 hours on it.”

Contest organizers are hoping to build on excitement over this year’s World Cup as part of their effort to make science compelling to kids.

The parts for the robot were to be delivered to Wiesbaden High on Monday. Students have six weeks to assemble and ship the robot. Fifteen of the Wiesbaden’s club’s 42 students will compete in a regional contest in Las Vegas in April, hoping to make the finals in Atlanta.

“The robot is not the thing,” said Frank C. Pendzich, an instructor at the school and adviser and coach for the team. “Building the robot is secondary, going to Las Vegas is secondary; the most important thing is what we’re doing is building engineers.”

This is the third year that Wiesbaden has been involved in the contest and the second year the students are building their own robot. Mentored two years ago by students at AFNORTH International High School in Brunssum, the Netherlands, Wiesbaden will partner this year with Aviano High School in Italy, a newcomer to the contest. AFNORTH will compete this year with the help of students from Brussels.

“I want to make the perfect robot,” said Taylor Ferguson, a Wiesbaden ninth-grader. “It will be fun thinking outside the box.”

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