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State qualifiers

Murray robotics team advances to state competition

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014 11:23 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014 11:38 a.m. CDT
Contributed photo Pictured is Murray's FIRST Tech Challenge robotics team at a competition Jan. 11 at Sergeant Bluff. Pictured, top row, from left, are Rileigh Hiatt and Joclyn Bower. Middle row are Kira Barr, Tony Miller, Frank Thacker and Coach Andy Hitz. Bottom row are Sam Rockhold, Allison Peterson and Zac Thacker.

MURRAY — It's time for the rise of the machines.

On Jan. 11, Murray Engineering Club's (MEC) FIRST Tech Challenge's (FTC) robotics team went to Sergeant Bluff for a competition and won the "Winning Alliance" and "Rockwell Collins Innovate" awards. The team advanced to state competition Feb. 21-22 at the Marriott Hotel in Coralville.

Zac Thacker, a senior, does a lot of the computer programming for the team.

"I'm the only one that really understands it," Thacker said with a laugh. "I did do some basic programming a couple of years ago. It kind of helped lead into this. I already kind of knew what I was doing and what I was looking for."

The engineering club was formed four years ago and has 25 members consisting of junior-high and senior-high students.

Eight members of the club are also involved with the FTC robotics team. Their team name is "MECanism." The team consists of four boys and four girls.

What is FIRST Tech Challenge?

FTC is designed for students in seventh through 12th grade to compete head-to-head using a sports model. Teams are responsible for designing, building and programming their robots to compete in an alliance format against other teams.

The robot kit is reusable from year to year and is programmed using a variety of languages. Teams, including coaches, mentors and volunteers are required to develop a strategy and build robots based on sound engineering principles.

Awards are given for competition, as well as for community outreach, design and other real-world accomplishments. College scholarships are also available through FTC.

How did MEC start?

Even though the engineering club has been around for four years, this is only the second year students have participated in a FTC robotics team.

Murray science teacher Andy Hitz helps to coach the club. The club first originated when students in a physics class wanted to build a T-shirt shooting gun.

"That kind of started the idea that maybe we needed a club here that focused on engineering," Hitz said. "We had a lot of interest in it. We built rockets … last year we got hooked in with the First Tech Challenge and (the) robotics program is really cool."

When students were asked what first interested them in joining MEC, these were some of their responses:

• "I like building things."

• "I'm going to college for computer science, so it kind of fit."

• "I liked it. It was something no other club did."

• "I like doing things hands-on, and this was a chance to actually give it a shot and do stuff and make awesome things."

On to state

This will be the first time the Murray's robotics team has advanced to state.

The team designed a robot to do a series of actions and movements, which include picking up blocks, going up ramps and dispensing the blocks in goals. Their robot's name is MECatron Mark 3.

Programming the robot for state competition is still in the works.

"They're looking into what types of upgrades they might do to their robot to let it do more stuff," Hitz said.

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