RONAN — A team from Ronan High School won the World Robotics Championships in St. Louis last week.
"Having never been before, we didn't know what to expect," said Jesse Gray, the team's coach, as he and seven Ronan students arrived at the Edward Jones Dome, home of the NFL's St. Louis Rams, for the competition.
In a convention center next door, teams from around the world set up in their "pit areas," which looked like display booths for a trade show.
"Some of them put roofs on their booths, they had nice chairs and video displays and big tool box racks," Gray said. "There were teams with sponsors like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, NASA."
And the Ronan booth?
"We took some screws out and put up a six-foot table banner," Gray said, "and we found a couple of wooden crates to sit on."
Competing in the First Technical Challenge, which featured 128 robotics teams from as far away as The Netherlands, Ronan took down all comers over three days.
The 2011 FTC World Robotics Champions are Troy McMillan, Thane Tobol, Alex Killian, J.T. Probst, Hunter Shima, Tyler Sassaman and Collin Hardy.
Team member Bradly Findly, who fell ill just before the event, couldn't make the trip.
The key to Ronan's success was in the simplicity of the design of its robot, engineered by McMillan and programmed by Tobol.
"It was half the size of the others, really small and really quick," Gray said. "The others were big and could not move as quickly. They were unable to keep up with us. That led to other teams playing more defense than offense, trying to block us from scoring."
This year's game, played at all competitions throughout the year, was called "Get Over It."
Competition occurred on that 12-foot-by-12-foot field divided by two "cliffs," two ramps (also called bridges) and one "mountain" in the center.
There are several ways to score points; most involve the robot removing 6-inch-long PVC tubes, called batons, from dispensers located around the field and placing them into stationary or rolling goals.
Other teams do the same thing, at the same time, on the same field, and four robots — two per alliance — all run at once, trying to score points and keep the other team from doing so simultaneously.
Ronan team members came home as world champions. They got a police-escorted ride around town Monday on a Ronan Fire Department truck, followed by a pep assembly at the school.
"The robot worked flawlessly and their strategies really clicked," Gray said, who started the robotics team six years ago in Ronan Middle School. "It was amazing. I think they're still in shock over the whole thing."