Although their destination isn't far, members of Grandview Heights High School's FIRST robotics team will pack carefully for their trip to the Miami Valley Regional at Wright State University.

FIRST teams had to complete adjustments by Feb. 19 on the robot they have designed and built for the 2019 competition, set March 7-9.

"We'll be boxing it up to take it to the regional," adviser Sue Godez said. "We take a bus to the competition and we put the robot in the luggage compartment. We'll make sure to pack lots of suitcases and backpacks around the robot. We don't want it to get damaged on the drive to Wright State."

Although students won't rack up too much mileage on the trip, the team's robot will travel a long way as part of the 2019 challenge.

The premise for Destination: Deep Space involves two competing alliances of three teams collecting samples on Planet Primus.

Alliances will have two minutes and 30 seconds before liftoff to use their robots to place hatch panels on rockets and cargo ships, load cargo pods into both, then return their robots back to their alliance's habitat platform.

The hatch panels are polycarbonate discs and the pods are rubber playground balls, Godez said.

"We've chosen to have our team's robot concentrate on moving the hatch panels into place on the rocket and cargo ship," she said. "It's a deceptively simple game because there are so many variables to how you can try to accomplish the task."

Other members of the alliance will use their robots to load the cargo pods, Godez said.

The Grandview team, dubbed the Botcats, will attempt to collect more points by guiding their robot through a "sandstorm" during the first 15 seconds of the competition.

The "sandstorm" actually is a black curtain that will prohibit the driver of the robot from directly seeing what the robot is doing.

"You can either program your robot to follow instructions during that first 15 seconds or the driver can operate the robot watching video from a camera," said junior Ravi Kumar.

"Using the camera will give us a better opportunity to get more points," junior Emmalyn Kukura said.

The task of installing the hatch panels is challenging because "there are multiple ways to approach it," junior Carter Taylor said. "I think this year there's going to be a large variety of robot designs we'll see at the competition. It's going to be interesting to see all the different robots."

Grandview's team is small this year, with only 15 students.

That's both an advantage and a hurdle for the team, which had less than seven weeks to design, build and test its robot after details of the 2019 FIRST competition were revealed in January, Kumar said.

Students needed to work on the robot nearly every day, but with only 15 students on the team, the logistics of making sure enough people were available each day to continue the progress was difficult, he said.

"The good thing is that everybody was involved and had a variety of jobs to do," Kukura said, "so even the freshman members of our team played a big part."

That depth of experience will help provide a seamless transition as older students graduate and younger students move up into leadership roles in the years to come, Godez said.

"This has been a fabulous team," she said. "Our students this year are amazing and they've worked so hard, and as a real team."

The short timeline requires a FIRST team's members to put aside their differences and work collaboratively, Kukura said.

"Learning how to do that is one of the best things you learn from FIRST," she said.

The program also offers students real-world experience in engineering and other STEM activities, Kumar said.

"We're getting to do things that are similar to what you would be doing in a job in those career areas," he said.

FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

During the Miami Valley Regional, Grandview will aim to qualify for the FIRST Championship, which will be held the last week of April in Detroit.

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