'Nerds' compete in robo-competition

High school robotic engineer: 'People call us nerds. I don't care. I guess I take it as a compliment.'

Last weekend, San Jose (CA) State University hosted a robotic competition where high school engineering students from across the country competed in a tournament showcasing their hand-built robots maneuverability, speed and precision, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

"I'm trying to calm down right now," said Matt Yu, 17. "It's easier to operate the robot when my hand isn't shaking."

The first round was a two-minute clash in which students must make their robots pick up plastic life preservers and place them on a giant hat rack in the center of the arena, while preventing opposing robots from doing the same.

Yu and his teammates from Bellarmine College Preparatory School in San Jose spent the last two months building a robot named Raptor. The robot was five feet tall and made of a pneumatic pump, two pressure gauges, four motors, a regulator, a motorcycle battery, computer, radio receiver, gear boxes and long strands of cable, wire and metal chain.

"People call us nerds, sometimes," said Yu, gazing fondly at Raptor. "I don't care. I guess I take it as a compliment."

The scene was a mixture of chaos and organized sport, complete with cheerleaders jumping up and down, coaches shouting and an occasional wayward bolt rolling across the floor.

"We'll never be the football team," said Ryan Epperson, 17, captain of the Pioneer High School squad from San Jose. "That's OK. Being the best quarterback is probably not going to make the world a better place, but being the best engineer might."

The top six robots will head to the national championships, held in Atlanta in April.

"It's complicated, like baseball," said Epperson's grandfather, Robert Montano. "The first time you watch baseball, you don't know what's going on, either."

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