AYER -- For a team of rookies, Andromeda One has come a long way.
And this week, their award-winning robot took them even further, as they traveled to St. Louis on Tuesday to compete in a world robotics championship.
The team leapt to the top in its first year, winning the Rookie All-Star award at the New England District competition and the same rookie award at the New England District Championship.
The team is one of thousands of robotics teams throughout the country registered with FIRST -- the nonprofit titled For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. This year, the team ranked 57th out of 163 teams in New England.
Each year, teams of high school students compete to build robots weighing up to 120 pounds --not including battery and bumpers -- to complete a certain task.
The team's robot, built over a six-week period in January, has six wheels and a rectangular base. Fourteen team members left on a bus on Tuesday for the championship, held from the 23 to the 26, and will return Sunday.
In total, the team consists of 23 students and 17 mentors with no robotics experience. The students, from Ayer Shirley High School and one each from Ayer Shirley Middle School and Parker Charter School, are: Alana Miska, Alex Patano, Allana Gilbert, Bao Nguyen, Ben Hebert, Ben Plamondon, Brendan Marshall, Jacob Drooker, Jacob Miska, Jason Mills, Jeffrey Blood, Jennifer McGrath, Jose Rosales, Keith Kidder, Max Milkowski, Nick Martone, Quentin Davis, Rebecca Strong, Ryan Martone, Ryan Messcher, Sarah Ernst, Steven Drooker and Ulises Resendiz.
Each team member has a role, such as ASRHS freshman Strong, who is the team's rules keeper.
"I study the booklet and have to look up questions and websites," she said at a team meeting. She became interested in the robotics team, she said, thanks to her sister, who has been on a team at Nashoba Valley Technical High School for three years.
"I think it's fun because you get to kind of do something productive at the school," she said.
For freshman Hebert, one of the most interesting parts of being on the team was when the group got close to building the robot.
"I used to play Legos my whole elementary-school life, and it just seemed fun creating something like Legos and creating a robot," he said.
Being on the team, he said, has "been a blast."
"I don't think outside of robotics I would have met most of these people," he said.
Martone helped with drilling and worked with the hardware.
"I was surprised how it came together," he said. "I was surprised that I could help."
Ayer parent Christine Miska began the team last year knowing it would be tough to design and build a robot in six weeks.
"I knew it was an opportunity I wanted my kids to have, and I think it really raises the level of quality and perception of our high school to have a program like this," she said. "I know there's some kids who go to Nashoba Tech in part because they've got this cool robotics program."
At the championships, Andromeda One will be participating in a game of "aerial assist" with two other robots on their team. The goal of the game is to get the ball through certain goals, with the ability to earn extra points if all three robots on a team work together.
Just one day before getting on the bus to St. Louis, Hebert, who works on the hardware and helps control the robot's arms, said the fact that the team was going to the championships in its first year was awesome.
"Knowing that we're going to go compete with teams from all around the world that have been doing this for a long time is just pretty awesome," he said.
He predicted that one of the hardest things at the competition would be working with the other robots.
The Ayer Shirley team is in the "Newton" division, and will be competing with other teams from that same division.
Judges will observe the teams, which can walk away with awards for outstanding volunteer, engineering, design and rookie inspiration. As a newcomer, the team hopes to get the same Rookie All-Star award at the world championship level.
"The awards are not just about the robot playing the game, but also about working together, being professional," Miska said.
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