FALL RIVER — Wielding a device that resembled a video game controller, 14-year-old Angelo Nielsen carefully maneuvered his robot into position to pick up a plastic cone.
“It was really a close game,” said Nielsen, a freshman at the Atlantis Charter School in Fall River.
Nielsen and his teammates in the Atlantis Robotics Club were among dozens of middle and high school students who competed Saturday at the 2017-2018 VEX Robotics Competition game, In the Zone, at Bristol Community College.
Operating robots that they designed and built themselves, about 100 students from across Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island competed in games where they had to push and lift small plastic cones into position in order to score points.
The competition was organized as a tournament, and the robotics students from Atlantis made it as far as the semifinals before losing to a team that included robotics and engineering students from B.M.C. Durfee High School.
“This was our first competition,” Nielsen said. “We learned how to program the robot, have fun, and we get to meet a lot of people and build our teamwork skills.”
Anthony Lunn, 16, a Durfee junior, explained his team’s winning design, showing their robot’s claw, with metallic teeth-like objects, that he said enabled it to pick up cones easier. The Durfee students also kept making repairs to their robot throughout the day, discarding batteries and using recycled parts from previous robotic competitions.
“The idea is to have fun and learn teamwork. It’s amazing what these competitions can bring out in the students,” said Helder Lobo, the Durfee Robotics Team’s mentor who teaches electronics and engineering at Durfee.
Lobo said competitions like Saturday’s tournament will hopefully motivate young people to study STEM topics and pursue careers in engineering, science and technology. Chris Nielsen, who launched the Business Innovation Center in Fall River and partners with Atlantis Charter School, said young people today are increasingly working and creating with technology in a similar manner that previous generations of students created with paint and markers.
“It’s really neat to see how this has spread into the community,” said Nielsen, whose son, Angelo, competed in Saturday’s robotics games.
Daniel Kuncik and Andea McLaughlin, both advisers for the Atlantis Robotics Club, said their students learned to work together as a team as they designed and went about assembling their robot.
“It’s definitely taught them teamwork, sportsmanship and problem-solving,” McLaughlin said.