Wellington School will be invaded by dozens of robots this weekend, powered by the minds of hundreds of students from Ohio and surrounding states.

Wellington School will be invaded by dozens of robots this weekend, powered by the minds of hundreds of students from Ohio and surrounding states.

For the first time, Wellington will play host to First Tech Challenge (FTC) Central Ohio Qualifier, a contest that pits schools' robotics clubs against one another in a contest of engineering.

"The way this works, in every state there are qualifying tournaments in which the winners of the tournament get to go to the world championships," said Wellington teacher and robotics team advisor Matthew Spencer.

"We first went three years ago, when there were actually six teams in Ohio. In the second year, Ohio teams were in excess of 20, and this year we're getting on toward 40 teams, so the state organizers saw that happening, and we thought this was an idea we could really grow in central Ohio. We're seeing the germ of an idea that's growing very fast."

This year's FTC qualifier will include more than 30 teams totaling some 600 students from Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia and Michigan. The teams will deploy robots they have designed, programmed and built, and must stack a series of crates before filling them with a number of racquetballs.

Top winners in the competition will go on to the Ohio FTC championship tournament in Cincinnati on Feb. 18. The world championship takes place in St. Louis later this spring.

Seniors Sophie Knowles and Alan Swartz, captains of Wellington's two teams, have been a part of the team since their sophomore year. Designing their robots, scrutinizing the challenge posed to them and managing a team have been quite the learning experiences, they said.

"You don't really learn a lot of teamwork just sitting in class," Knowles said. "I mean, you have team projects, but here we're learning how to work together with other people to meet deadlines, and how we have to work together to make the best robot we can for the competition."

"I'm primarily on the programming side," Swartz said. "The big thing for me is the teamwork that has gone into the engineering side of our team. I took a class at OSU over the summer where we did a lot of group work, and because of the robotics work we've done I was able to lead those groups while I was in them.

"You get a better idea through this of how to get a group of people to work together, and get things done more efficiently."

Spencer said that in addition to honing their engineering and programming skills, the students are developing, on their own, abilities that will aid them in their adult lives.

"If you were to ask me what we're going for here, it's exactly some of these intangible things," he said. "It's very well to have a skill set, but you have to work with a group of people to make it happen at some point. There are opportunities here for them to make decisions that have real consequences, because your whole team has to compete in two weeks. A decision with no consequences, you're not putting any of yourself on the line, but these students' decisions affect the outcome of the team. I think of it as more of a real-world experience."

The event will begin Friday, Jan. 27, at Wellington, 3650 Reed Road, with robot software inspections. Actual competition kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday, with teams competing until 4 p.m. The tournament is free and open to the public.

Spencer said that any schools in Columbus who don't have a team are welcome to attend as well.

"We'd love to give them the opportunity to tour the pits," he said. "Even after the tournament, if anyone wants to come by, we'll help them form their own teams. A strong group of schools in Columbus doing this program is to everyone's benefit."