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Virginia is for robots; kids camp looks to future

Saturday - 8/10/2013, 11:24pm  ET

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Participant Ethan Passmore makes adjustments to a VEX robot. (WTOP/Kathy Stewart)
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WASHINGTON - It's robotic rumble time. Students from Metz and Manassas Park Middle Schools battle it out in a robotic competition at the Manassas Museum Saturday. It's all part of the grand finale of the week-long VEX Robotics Camp held at Metz Middle School.

VEX Robotics Coach Travis Bower says, "We really are a powerhouse. We've actually had different states come to see how things run in Northern Virginia and start to take that back to their states."

Bower is a science teacher at Manassas Park Middle School. "We have more teams in Northern Virginia than most states do and it's all because Prince William County started the idea," he says. "And they have Micron that came onboard that helps support our teams. Lockheed Martin and Uno Chicago restaurant, they support us."

Bower says there are about 250 teams throughout Virginia but 168 of those teams are in Northern Virginia. Prince William County, Manassas Park and the City of Manassas robotics region is now expanding and is reaching out to include Fairfax and the Annandale area, he says.

VEX can be thought of as competitive robot building. Each team has the same kit and the same instructions on what the robot's task will be. The robots are built from scratch and programmed to accomplish the task.

Bower says his kids have their eye on the VEX World Championships in California in April where 24 countries are represented. "It's quite an intense competition and it stretches over three days," he says

The Metz Robotics team coach, Leonard Newman, describes what VEX is all about. "A bunch of middle and high school kids having fun with engineering. That's the best way I can describe it," Newman says.

Thien Vu, a 13-year-old rising eighth grader at Manassas Park Middle School went to the world competition last year. He says, "It was amazing, like a dream come true."

But this year it will be harder to return, as a new layer of competition has been added. Now students will also compete at statewide level.

Vu says he's motivated to get to the world championship in April, because Bower will be leaving the program next year.

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