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Robotics team shines in St. Louis

Helena Molinski, captain of Davis' Citrus Circuits robotics team, and Tao Tao Chu, mechanical leader, work to reinforce the Frisbee pickup system after it was bent by an impact with another robot. Courtesy photo

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From page A1 | May 01, 2013 |

The Citrus Circuits robotics team featuring local high school students took their robot all the way to the Final Four of the FIRST Robotics World Championships in St. Louis last weekend — the farthest the team has ever advanced in its nine-year history.

Along the way, the students and their coach — Da Vinci Charter Academy teacher Steve Harvey — displayed the innovative, problem-solving spirit and gracious professionalism they’ve become known for, including creating a sophisticated scouting system for the competition that the team then shared with a rookie team at the championships.

Team captain Helena Molinski expressed pride in the team’s accomplishments.

“Our team won our division and made it … farther than we had ever hoped to go,” she said. “This year was a big year for the recognition and competitiveness of our team, and it was incredible to be part of something bigger than myself.”

The FIRST robotics competition features high school students from around the world building robots that compete in three-team alliances against other alliances. Each year features a different game, with previous competitions centered around soccer and basketball.

This year’s game, “Ultimate Ascent,” required robots to shoot Frisbees through small hoops, then climb a metal pyramid frame.

Citrus Circuits — made up of students from Da Vinci, Davis High School and the three Davis junior highs — qualified for the world championships by virtue of their first-place finish at California’s Central Valley Regional tournament earlier this year. It was their third straight trip to the world championships, and their finest showing yet.

The team finished among the top 12 out of more than 2,700 teams competing.

Similar to the NCAA’s Final Four in basketball, the FIRST tournament features all teams competing in one of four divisions named after prominent scientists: Isaac Newton, Marie Curie, Archimedes and Galileo.

Citrus Circuits easily made its way through early matches in the Curie division, becoming the highest ranked team in the division before ultimately taking the division title alongside alliance partners from Texas and Michigan.

The alliance then squared off against the top teams from the Archimedes division, winning the first match 233-201, before dropping the next two in the best-of-three series. A power cable that came loose during the second match contributed to the loss.

And while they didn’t come home as champions, team members clearly left St. Louis with a lot of pride in their accomplishments, not the least of which was an innovative scouting system students created.

After analyzing previous years’ match results, the team developed a system that enabled them to identify other alliances’ strengths, helping them in selecting their own alliances. The system used eight Android tablets to feed data to a central offsite server where it was then processed and displayed on an iPhone app accessed by Harvey and the team’s drivers.

Students developed and assembled all of the programming and hardware for the system and are now exploring ways of developing the system as shareware with other teams.

Meanwhile, they did share the system with a rookie team in St. Louis that had placed third in qualification, in order to help that team with its alliance partners selection.

And so ends another exciting year for Citrus Circuits. In addition to their best finish ever, students were extremely successful in their fundraising this year, collecting more than $35,000 to help cover parts, travel costs and competition entry fees. Big donors included several UC Davis schools and colleges as well as the chancellor’s office. Other contributions came from the Da Vinci Boosters Club and the Davis High School Blue & White Foundation as well as the Sunrise Rotary Club and DTL/Mori Seiki.

To learn more about the team and see photos and video from their competitions, visit http://www.citruscircuits.org.

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at aternus@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy

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