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March 24. 2013 9:34PM

Milford robotics team's regional win earns shot at championship

MILFORD - After securing a win at the North Carolina Regional Tournament on March 16, the Milford-based robotics team Mechanical Mayhem will be heading to the FIRST robotics world championships in St. Louis next month.

Last weekend, Mechanical Mayhem, a team that includes 21 kids from the Milford area, joined ranks with two partner teams - the Robodogs and the Robo Eagles, both of Raleigh, N.C. - to compete in the regional matches organized by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), according to team mentor Penee-Lee O'Neil.

Mechanical Mayhem competed with their partners against teams fielding 55 other robots during the regional competition and came out on top, winning the Engineering Excellence Award. That win puts them in the running for the world championship.

The team includes Olivia Edvalson, Stephen Schunemann, Meera Nair, Nick Garcia, Maxwell Landry, Connor Houghton, Morghan O'Neil, Rachel Avery, Mackenzie Crary, Bryan Rose, Ben Henry, Jackson Volante, Kaileb O'Neil, Anthony Edvalson, David Gray, Aaron Peterson, Ken Streeter (coach), Penee Ben Avery, Jon Heinzl and Caleb Avery.

This is not the first time Mechanical Mayhem has made it to the world championship in its nine-year history, said O'Neil. The participants from 12 communities that make up the team have competed against kids from all over the world several times before at the FIRST world championships, and though they've never won the top competition, they keep improving, said O'Neil.

"Our goal is to get to the Einstein floor where the very top robots compete," said ONeil.

But beyond that threshold, the team aspires to win the Chairman's Award, given to the competitors who not only have a winning robot, but do an incredible amount of research about the other robots in the competition and learn from what others are doing - a skill that in FIRST terminology is called "scouting." The team also needs "to get the word out that science, technology, engineering and math are cool," said O'Neil.

The competition is fun for the kids, but also a lot of work. They spend hours in a basement at the coach's house, building and perfecting their robot, and have to compete on many levels just to qualify for the world championships. But O'Neil said the experience the kids get is akin to an internship with a major company like BAE - and some of the kids who participate in FIRST actually do serve as interns during high school.

"They've got the real tools that are used in the workplace," said O'Neil. "People from big companies are scoffing them up because they have these skills before they even go to college."

Over the next few weeks, Mechanical Mayhem will focus on fundraising, getting the word out about FIRST and working with a clone of their winning robot to try to smooth out their performance.

"They're not allowed to touch their robot until the competition," said O'Neil. "It's all sealed up in a box."

For more information, visit http://mechanicalmayhem.org/.

nfoster@newstote.com

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