Robot team members direct their machines to collect wiffle balls. Photo by Chris Jennewein
Robot team members direct their machines to collect wiffle balls. Photo by Chris Jennewein

High school robotics teams wearing goggles and Victorian top hats are competing at a steampunk-inspired robotics competition in Del Mar sponsored by Qualcomm and a host of technology companies.

The 11th annual FIRST Robotics Competition Friday and Saturday at the Del Mar Arena involves 66 teams from the United States, Germany and Turkey. Six winning teams will go to the championship, and one will win a $10,000 prize.

“Innovation is the basis of inventions that are going to change the world for the better,” said Erica Fessia, Qualcomm’s director of community engagement, at the opening ceremony. “You are the trailblazers who are going to change the world for the better.”

The Clockwork Oranges make repairs.

As teams competed to have their robots gather yellow wiffle balls, place large gears and climb ropes, others worked on their machines in booths crammed with drills, 3-D printers, band saws and test equipment.

This year’s competition had a steampunk theme, and the teams’ costumes and names reflected this. The Clockwork Oranges represented three high schools in Orange County, while Francis Parker fielded the WARLords and Canyon Crest Academy brought the Aluminum Narhwals.

The robots operate autonomously for 15 seconds, then are controlled by the teams for the rest of the challenge. Teams can form alliances and create specialized robots.

The machines are approximately a yard on each side and filled with motors, batteries and control electronics.

The Aluminum Narwhals from Canyon Crest Academy with their robot.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.