FARMVILLE — A high tech competition at Farmville Middle School over the weekend focused as much on cooperation and teamwork as it did winning the FIRST Tech Challenge qualifiers tournament.

Fifteen teams from around eastern North Carolina converged on the school for the robotics challenge sponsored by North Carolina A&T State University and Qualcomm on Saturday. In attendance was the FTC Pi Rates 13735 team and its 15 members from schools across Pitt County.

“This was a team started by the Pitt Pi Rates Robotics team in Greenville,” said the team’s mentor, Bill McClung said. “The kids are basically using an android phone to run a robot, which is pretty cool. I think it’s very topical that they are using the phone to run it with how much technology they use these days.”

The FTC Pi Rates are made up of students, grades 7-12, from five different schools, including D.H. Conley High School, North Pitt High School, E.B. Aycock Middle School, Hope Middle and Oakwood. Carson Fraley, 13, attends E.B. Aycock and has been involved with the Pi Rates for two years.

“I went to a practice hosted by the Pi Rates a few years ago and really enjoyed myself, so I joined the team,” Fraley said. “This is really fun. It’s cool to see the robot at the start and watching it progress into something that can do all of these amazing things.”

In each round the Pi Rates were paired with another team, known as an alliance, with the goal of stacking large, Lego-like blocks on a platform. The objective, place as many blocks onto the base as possible while building as high a structure as possible to earn maximum points. The objective of paring two teams together randomly each round helped reinforce one of the main teaching points of the event: teamwork.

The random pairs go through qualifying matches before the top four teams each select their own partner for the final matches. After another set of three finals matches, the winning alliance leader qualifies for the next level of competition, in this case a state competition. Only the alliance leader qualifies, while the partner team does not.

“One of the focuses is cooperation and teamwork,” Dominque Royal of Sharpe Pursuits said. Sharpe Pursuits helped organize the event.

“This helps focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) aspects, along with programing,” Royal said. “It also helps them learn to work with others groups in critical thinking situations, because you don’t know who you’ll be paired with in each round. In one round you’ll work with one team and the next possibly be going against them, so you have to be respectful toward each team.”

At the beginning of each round the robots attempt to score points through autonomous actions, without human input. Pre-programed instructions allow the robots to reposition the base for their structures into a predesignated zone, earning points along the way. While autonomous, robots can also retrieve bricks to earn more points.

Following the 30-second autonomous period, two players from each team are allowed to take control, under the watchful eyes of the crowd, volunteers, opponents and judges.

“In this round we are really just looking at how the robot moves while in autonomous mode,” judge Scott Amendt said. “When they first arrive we inspect each robot and look at several areas like the design, the engineering involved, the robustness and uniqueness of the robot.”

For older team members, such as North Pitt junior Donovan Jenkins, the experience of mentoring younger members and participating with the program goes beyond the ring and the production of their robot.

“This looks really good on college resumes,” Jenkins explained. “Colleges are always looking for extracurricular activities like this, and being able to put that down is big for me, along with being able to show how we as older team members mentor the younger kids while building the robot on things such as safety.”

The Pi Rates finished the day on the winning alliance but were not alliance leaders, meaning they did no qualify for state level competition at the event. They did however earn the CONNECT award which rewards teams for bringing FIRST into their community.

To learn more about Pitt Pi Rrates Robotics visit pittpiraterobotics.com.

Contact Jake Keator at jkeator@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 and follow @JakeKeatorDR on Twitter.