LEWISTON — While most robot-building teams at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee on Friday had months to prepare, the local team from St. Dominic Academy had three days.

“But we did pretty good at our first match,” said Jessica Rogers, a parent-volunteer for the team. “We basically built it over winter break with four kids and a handful of parents.”

More than 40 teams of teens, teachers and parents from around New England were at the Colisee to pit their engineering prowess and robot-driving skills against each other for the fourth annual Pine Tree Regionals FIRST Robotics Challenge.

The competition will continue Saturday with contests from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s free of charge and the public is invited to attend.

Teams of students and mentoring adults learn the rules and find out what their robots need to do in the fall. They have to come up with a workable engineering solution to the game’s problem and then design, build and program their robot.

St. Dom’s parent Randall Roeser said his son’s team got a late start.

“We’d made a commitment earlier in the year, but we didn’t have a place to build; we didn’t have a team,” Roeser said. “We didn’t think we could get it done this year.”

But Karen Giles, from the Hallowell-Farmingdale team Delta Prime, wouldn’t let them quit, volunteering the team’s shop in Augusta and some spare parts.

“They came to our build site and we helped them build something as simple as possible that would still be competitive,” Giles said.

It worked, because the team built its first robot over three days and took it to their first contest, the New England Regionals in Providence, R.I., on March 24. The team came in 18th overall, claiming the best score among the rookie teams.

Roeser said the St. Dom’s team likely will use warehouse space near the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport in Auburn to prep for next year’s contest.

“This encourages these kids to work on their math and sciences and work toward a STEM degree,” Rogers said. “They get real-world skills and problem-solving methods and they work with real mentors from the technology field.”

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. 

The point of the contest is to challenge the teens and promote science, engineering and math, but it’s also a fun atmosphere. This year, teams from Connecticut to Maine brought their robots. The teens, many in costumes, wander the pit area between contests, swapping pins and memorabilia and making new friends.

It’s part of the national FIRST competition. The acronym stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” and was created by inventor Dean Kamen in 1989 to promote science and engineering education.

Six teams compete one at a time several times throughout the day, racking up points. Teams with the most points at the end of the day advance to the next stage.

Past contests have had robots collecting balls or Frisbees and launching them into targets.

This year’s contest was the same, with a medieval siege theme pitting two alliances of three robots each against each other. Robots had to collect volleyball-sized rubber “boulders,” carry them past obstacles and shoot them into the opposing alliance’s castle-shaped target. Once they get enough boulders into the target, the castle is considered breached and they can surround it or climb it for extra points.

Teams also compete for safety and spirit awards and for the coveted Chairman’s Award. Teams make presentations to judges about their philosophy, what they’ve learned and the teamwork it took to get them there.

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