Three local teens are among 10 finalists in an international robotics competition and expect to find out soon if they’ve captured the top prize.
The 14-year-olds — Sean Carr, Ross Edwards and R.J. Walters — just wrapped up the second phase of the X Prize After Earth competition.
The contest winner announcement is scheduled for around Aug. 9.
The competition is based on the movie, “After Earth,” starring Will Smith and Jaden Smith. The sponsor, X Prize Foundation, uses competitions to address “the world’s grand challenges,” according to its website.
In this case, the teams explored ways to make earth more sustainable and how to use robotics to explore the potential for a new settlement for humans.
No matter the outcome, the three young men — who are members of the Trinity Dragons robotics team — said they’ve enjoyed the challenge.
They’ve designed and built a robot that can scoot across a surface, can lift small buckets and deliver them to where they need to go and then can return to its base.
While the robot seemingly acts on its own, it actually completes its work through computer programming and infrared sensors. It carries out its tasks in a fictitious place, called Nova Prime.
The robotics team spent countless hours building and programming the robot, and created Nova Prime from plywood, Spackle, sand, chili powder, paint and plants.
They also produced a video that tells the story of their imaginary world.
The video opens with images of what’s going wrong with earth — traffic jams, billowing smokestacks, parched earth, landfills and a dead bird. It then pans to a view of Carr’s backyard in Lutz, where fish thrive in water tanks, which provide water and nutrients to a flower and vegetable garden in a system, which in turn produces fish and organic vegetables, using very little water.
The video also features a lively musical soundtrack and an entertaining look at the steps the team followed to create and program the robot.
The video also pokes fun at Ray Carr, who is Sean’s dad and the team’s coach. He’s depicted as a lecturer who is boring the team to death.
Other portions of the video show the rover coming together and the construction of Nova Prime.
The team submitted that video recently meeting the contest’s phase two deadline. The video they submitted in June won them the right to compete in the finals.
The contest provides an excellent challenge for the kids, Ray Carr said.
“It’s not just a computer science thing; it’s not just mechanical engineering,” he said. “It’s electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, computer engineering and a lot of geometry, all at once. They’re not focused on the learning. They’re focused on the goal. They learn along the way. I think that kind of opens up their minds a bit.
“Seeing things run around like that (robot), after you wrote the software, it’s fun,” he added.
Sean Carr said it’s been fun for him, too.
“We work together really well. We have the same common interest in mechanical and software,” Sean Carr said. “We bonded a lot.”
“It makes it even more fun when you’re competing against other people,” said Walters, who was at Ray Carr’s office five hours a day for at least five days a week.
“The robot, I believe, took about 42 hours of work,” Sean Carr said.
Ross took the lead role in designing the robot.
“He’s a Lego genius,” Sean Carr said. “That robot would be nowhere near what it is now without him.”
Walters did the lion’s share of painting and spackling to create Nova Prime and worked on developing the software to make the rover robot work.
“They struggled through a lot of issues,” Ray Carr said. “They struggled through a lot of things to come to the end solution. It didn’t just show up by any means.”
“The compass sensor kept messing up,” Walters said. “The tires were too big and wobbly.”
But they worked through those problems and produced a robot that would follow computer commands.
They also used music to help move their video along, after discovering that none of them particularly excelled at talking directly into the camera.
For making it to the final round, the team received a Lego Mindstorms robotic kit and a Sony Handycam video camera.
If they win the competition, they’ll be highlighted in a special feature about the X Prize After Earth Challenge on the U.S. Blu-ray disc of “After Earth.” They’ll also receive a signed Blu-ray, an “After Earth” poster and other prizes.