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Rock's Robotics blasts into state competition

Lead Summary
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Mavis Fodness

For the past six months, the seven-member Rock's Robotics team acted like a team of NASA scientists and engineers.
They developed a virtual reality identity named SEBASTIAN, which stands for Space Entertainment Because Astronauts Should Talk In order to Avoid Neurosis.
They constructed a robot called BURKE and programmed it to complete various tasks. It’s name stands for Broken Under Really Kind Expectations.
For their hard work, the team qualified for the state’s first LEGO League tournament Saturday in Sioux Falls.
On the line is a possible trip to the national tournament.
Aaron Perkins is one of three coaches for the robotics team that organized in 2008.
“This year, we are a remarkably close and cohesive group,” he said. “All in all we are very consistent with robotics and team presentations.”
Carrying on that team consistency are youth members Alex Reker, Quentin Johnson, Zoey Berghorst, Garret Cattnach, Shelby McCarthy, Zoe Perkins and Brenna Reker.
Adults coaching with Perkins are Randy Berghorst and Kelly Perkins.
Since August, when the First LEGO League released the challenge “Into Orbit,” the team has met weekly to develop the required presentations and robotic programming tasks.
The league stresses core values of celebrating discovery, teamwork and gracious professionalism.
Perkins credits balance for the team’s success.
“We are an all-around team,” he said. “We are not the strongest on robotics or the strongest in presenting,” he said.
That balance comes from focusing on all the tournament elements each week. 
The presentation called for students to identify a physical or social program faced by humans during long durations of space exploration.
The local team explained their idea to judges through a skit they developed. 
SEBASTIAN is a set of virtual reality goggles that interacts with the wearer through questions and videos. Alex Reker explained how it works.
“(The) prompting questions guide the conversation with astronauts so they have another option for someone to talk to,” he said.
McCarthy added, “One SEBASTIAN can be used to ease the loneliness of a crew of astronauts.”
The team also earns points in the robotics competition with BURKE.
The small, plastic LEGO blocks used for construction tend to fall apart, Zoe Perkins admitted.
With durability in mind, the youth kept their robot design simple and focused on a limited number of missions the robot completes for points.
“We find the ones without the need for a fancy contraption,” Johnson said. “It dispenses the switching of equipment.”
Coach Berghorst said the team uses the “keep it simple” approach to tournament elements.
This not the first time a Rock County group has competed at the state level.
According to the Rock County 4-H Extension, a local team has competed at the state level in two of the past three years.

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