MANATEE -- Next month, the Bayshore High students will have their engineering skills tested as they compete against students from New Zealand, China and Japan, among others. The Bayshore Bruins robotics teams will be heading to the VEX World Championships this April.
Both the all-girls team and a couple of members of the co-ed team qualified to go to Anaheim, Calif., to compete in the international competition April 17-21.
Girls have been on the robotics teams for the past two years, but this is the first year that Bayshore has an all-girls robotics team. It is also the first year the school is going to the world competition.
The Bayshore teams are part of the 15 teams representing the state of Florida
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at the VEX World Championships, and they will be competing against more than 500 other teams from around the globe.
Madison Perry, a junior, is the captain of the girls' robotic team. She and Sarah-Ann Polyakovics, a senior, designed robots to pick up bean bags and put them in troughs for the VEX competitions.
Robots score points by placing the beanbags, and they may also be used to interfere with the other teams' performances. There are other goals they can try to get their robots to accomplish to score extra points, such as climbing a ladder.
The students must prove their robots can run both autonomously and by remote control. They are also judged on their engineering notebooks, in which they show their designs, their progress and work log.
"We spend at least 10 hours a week practicing, working out kinks, designing and trying out new ideas," Perry said.
Polyakovics says her inspiration for robots designs come from YouTube, and Perry says her ideas come to her at five in the morning when she can't sleep. Both girls say they also draw inspiration from other competitors.
This year they have a watchful eye on New Zealand teams, which they believe will be the hardest to beat.
The road to the world competition has consisted of several smaller VEX competitions, requiring weeks of dedication and 7 a.m. starts Saturdays.
They also competed in the VEX robots events in the Technology Student Association state conference last week, taking first and second place in the high school division.
For the teams across Manatee County, robotics is also an opportunity for community outreach, helping out at other competitions and teaching other students about the robots.
"They not only compete, but also volunteer in the community and challenge others to improve their robotics," said Martha Proulx, the technology teacher and only technology advisor at Bayshore. "They staff events, set up, referee, score and help manage events."
Proulx says this helps students not only assist and build relationships with other schools but also allows them to experience what it is like on the other side of the competition, which she believes will make them better prepared for the world competition.
Perry and Polyakovics want to use these events to encourage other girls to not fear judgment, being active in a male-dominated club such as robotics.
Both the male and female students look up to their advisor Proulx as a role model.
"She is the mother hen; she treats us like her own children," Perry said. "She runs the state conference held every year; she does everything."
Perry got involved in robotics the second semester of her sophomore year when she was put in an engineering class. She says that while at first she was dragged into it kicking and screaming, she ended up loving it after Proulx gave her a robot to work with over the summer.
"There are not enough words to describe Mrs. Proulx," said Zack Zofrea, co-captain of the other team going to the VEX World Competition. "She carries the program on her shoulders."
Zofrea said he was originally bored with his technology elective but became interested after Proulx encouraged him to tinker with robotics.
"It takes physics and creativity and problem solving," said Cameron Powell, who is also competing in the world competition. "We always make mistakes, but we tear down and rebuild our robots after almost every competition," he said.
Perry and Polyakovics said that they are not nervous about the competition and that they have accepted that there will be other teams who are better. However, they consider it an experience of a lifetime to get to compete in the VEX World Championship.
"The biggest prize would be the bragging rights," Perry said. "The ability to say that I'm the best in the world!"
Proulx says that the robotics competitions help form a family between Manatee County schools and offers a great opportunity for students.
"What they are working on is the beginning of robots," Proulx said. "One of these students could be the next big thing and build a commercially affordable robot, probably a product we cannot yet even imagine."
Polyakovics wants to go into biomedical engineering and has been accepted into the University of Florida. Perry wants to become an aerospace engineer.