News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

March 6, 2014

Vigo County high school team in FIRST Robotics’ Crossroads Regional

Teams can qualify for national championship in St. Louis next month

TERRE HAUTE — Drivers of remote-controlled robots will match skills, similar to those used in basketball and soccer, to score in the FIRST Robotics’ Crossroads Regional on the campus of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

The Vigo County School Corp. is one of two rookie high school teams participating in this year’s regional of FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

Daisy P. Bell, a freshman at Terre Haute North Vigo High School, won a tryout to be the driver of the team’s robot.

“It is really fun, and I have a lot of video game experience, so I am used to the controller,” Bell said of an Xbox console used to control Vigo County’s Team Area 5188’s robot.

The team, which comprises students from North, Terre Haute South Vigo High School and West Vigo High School, on Thursday began assembling its robot from a kit of parts that included motors, batteries, a control system and mix of automation components.

This year’s competition is Aerial Assist, in which teams of three robots compete on a flat 25-foot by 54-foot field, straddled by an overhead truss. The teams can score by throwing over the truss, then into a “high level” goal, like shooting a basketball, that is over an area where drivers stand.

A score can also be made a floor-level, soccer-like goal.

Kris Verdeyen, a 1996 graduate of Terre Haute South Vigo High School and a 2000 graduate of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, is serving as master of ceremonies.

Verdeyen, an electrical engineer in robotics at NASA, became involved in FIRST Robotics competitions with high school programs in Houston, Texas, in 2006.

“FIRST encourages the mentor involvement. The focus of the program is on getting students in the high schools to work with professional engineers and other people in their community,” Verdeyen said.

“The kids that get the most out of this are the ones who get to work side by side with engineers on a real project. When we do this program at NASA, we treat is like it is a robot we are building for work. Everything is designed on a computer and we talk about power requirements. The process is streamlined from something we would send into space, but we try to get students involved as much as possible in a real life engineering project,” he said.

In addition, it is a “game with big size robots,” which makes the experience fun for the teams, Verdeyen said.

Rose-Hulman is one of 54 regional host sites at which FIRST teams can qualify for the championship at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis in April. Teams began practicing Thursday, with qualifying rounds to take place today, and final rounds scheduled from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday. All events are free and open to the public at Rose-Hulman’s Hulbert Arena inside the institute’s Sports and Recreation Center.

Twenty-four Indiana teams are participating, led by defending regional alliance champions Carmel High School (TechHOUNDS) and Indianapolis’ Perry Meridian High School (Cyber Blue).

Each team had just six weeks to design and build a robot, then had to bag its robot until Thursday.

As a rookie team, Vigo County got a basic kit robot to practice driving. “We built that kit robot, and for the past week and a half I have been practicing with that. … We built our own low and high goals” to practice shooting into, Bell said.

“Driving does have a lot pressure because I want to do [well] for my team,” Bell said.

Evan P. Burke, a sophomore at Terre Haute South Vigo High School, will be the team operator, controlling the robot’s ability to pick up a large ball. “I think we have a good chance of winning this” among rookie teams, Burke said. The team has 40 members, of which 35 percent is female.

Mark A. Stamper, a senior at South, plans to attend Rose-Hulman next year to major in mechanical or biomedical engineering. “I have my hand on just about everything with this,” he said as the team assembled the robot. “We sawed, bolted, screwed, drilled out, just about everything. I want to be part of this again at Rose. I like building and like designing,” Stamper said. “It has been a good experience.”

In the regional competition, the winning rookie team gets to advance to St. Louis.

The Vigo team is directly competing against rookie team Galactech (Team No. 4926) from Columbus, representing the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Half of that team are high school freshmen and 40 percent are female.

“We are trying to get a FIRST team going in the home of Cummins Inc., where we have the most mechanical engineers in the United States,” said Rick Lewis, a design engineer at Cummins.

Lewis participated in a FIRST team while in high school in Richmond, Va. “It made a huge impact on me as an engineer. It really let me know what I wanted to do. I was the design guy for our team and now a design engineer for Cummins,” Lewis said. “I very much thought this program was extremely valuable.”

That falls in line with an independent study that revealed FIRST alumni are more than twice as likely to have a science- or technology-related career after college and more than three times as likely to pursue a career in engineering, said Dale Long, communications director for Rose-Hulman.

FIRST is supported by three out of every five Fortune 500 companies and will offer more than $19 million in college scholarships this year, Long said.

You can follow the competition at or at

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or

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