Twelve East County students are competing at the VEX Worlds competition this week.
Although he is a freshman in high school, Devon Summerville has a volunteer job that consumes much of his week.
Summerville, who is a student at Braden River High, spends more than 30 hours a week working on a robot.
He doesn't program it to clean his room or do household chores. He and his teammates are teaching the three-pound plastic contraption to mimic the motion of shooting a basketball.
Summerville is among a combined 12 students from Braden River High, Nolan and Haile middle schools who are participating in the VEX Worlds competition, which is held April 20 through April 23 in Louisville, Ky., and matches competitors from 25 countries.
The 12 local students formed two teams, the Vexecutives and Skull and Bones.
Some of the categories, such as the VEX Robotics Competition (VRC), only allows high school students while the VEX IQ Challenge matches middle school students. The high school and middle school students work together on the STEM Research Project Challenge.
"The high school students are mentors for the younger students," said Maureen Hudson, the Vexecutives advisor and a Haile Middle industrial technology teacher.
The VRC invites students who make it past the state-level competition, which was held Feb. 13, to design a robot that can play a game.
This year, the game is "Nothing but Net," which requires students to maneuver their robot to shoot 64 orange plastic balls into a container. The VEX IQ Challenge is the middle school version of the "Nothing but Net" game.
"Every year there’s a different game," Summerville said. "With this game, you should be able to have your robot shoot balls without you even steering it."
Last year, students stacked piles of cubes, based on color, in the Skyrise challenge.
Students are also responsible for the STEM Research Project Challenge, in which they solve a "real-world problem" with a robot.
This year's theme is science, and Summerville's team is focusing on coral reef restoration.
"Right now, diving to coral reefs and replanting them is done by scuba divers," said Trevor Davis, a Haile Middle student. "They are limited in how deep they can dive. We're proposing that instead, we could use an underwater drone or other type of technology to do that work for them. But we aren't completely replacing people. Someone has to program the equipment and maneuver it."
Although the championship event is focused on the robots, it isn't the only aspect of each team the judges review.
Students are responsible for crafting a booth that "sells their team as a business," Hudson said.
Hudson and her Haile students are familiar with the Worlds competition stage. They won the middle school division of the competition last year.
"I wanted them to embrace the experience and have fun," Hudson said. "And then we won. It was an amazing time."
By the time the competition ends, teams already are working on plans for next year.
"We talk about the next year and what we're going to do to our robots," said Brantley Deines, a member of the Skull and Bones group who competed a year ago. "You don't have to wait until school starts to start thinking about the game plan. We start while we're still competing at Worlds."
Gil Burlew, an engineering teacher at Braden River High, said this is the first year his students have participated at the Worlds competition.
He said through the robotics program, his students are learning skills they will use later in life.
"Robotics concepts are100% real world applicable," Burlew said. "My students are learning fiber optics, hydraulics, lasers, problem solving, time management and other life skills. I'm excited to see how all their hard work pans out."