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Mars Robotics advances to state championship

Colby Kohnen, left, and Nathan Taylor work on a robot during one of the Mars Robotics Association's practice sessions at the Mars Borough Municipal Building on Thursday. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

MARS — Members of the Mars Robotics Association worked feverishly Thursday at the municipal building to design and program robots to take over the world.

Or at least launch a paper airplane.

All 27 of the eighth- through 12th-grade students involved are advancing to the FIRST Tech Challenge State Championship in March, where they will participate in robotics tournaments and present their ideas and portfolios to a panel of judges in Hellertown.

This will be second time the organization advances to the state championship.

“We’re putting ourselves out there but also ... creating something as a team we are all proud of and we all worked for,” said Elaina Anderson, an 11th-grade student at Pine-Richland School District. “It’s really amazing to see this success. I mean, we made it to states. That’s a big deal.”

As part of her team, Elaina helped program a robot to drive without any controls. She also helped build a portfolio that spanned 15 pages.

While she’s attended the club before, she considers this her first year as an active participant in the robotics association. The only girl on her team, Elaina said she was reluctant to join at first, but said she has since learned how to code and made lasting friendships.

Her sister Audrey is also a club member, and her father, Eric Anderson, helps mentor students in the program.

Elaina’s teammate, Mars Area High School student Santiago Beltran, was the team’s lead programmer, and used JavaScript to code the robot’s functions.

From identifying and picking up objects to suspending itself from a bar and launching paper airplanes, the robots featured in the state competition all have unique capabilities, said club mentor Brenda Fink.

Colby Kohnen, a 10th-grade cyber student, said he is “very excited” to go to states and see how the other teams’ robots perform.

Grigory Parkhitko, Shrey Paruvelli, Kavin Dassanaike and Ashrith Avunorri — all first-year participants who helped create their robot’s paper airplane launch feature — also said they are excited for the state championship.

Designing and creating the robots came with a number of challenges, Colby said, and multiple iterations of each part of the robots had to be created.

But the club, which started eight years ago with just a handful of students, is not only about robots.

Fink, whose son participated in the club until he graduated from Knoch High School, said students in the robotics association participate in community outreach, fundraising and other activities.

As part of a fundraising effort, high school students in the club even sell their own brand of soda at local businesses, aptly named Red Planet Soda.

The community nonprofit receives students from nearby school districts, homeschool co-ops and cyber schools.

Colby Kohnen (left) and Nathan Taylor work on a robot during one of the Mars Robotics Association's practice sessions at the Mars Borough Municipal Building on Thursday. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Colby Kohnen (left) and Nathan Taylor work on a robot during one of the Mars Robotics Association's practice sessions at the Mars Borough Municipal Building on Thursday. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Colby Kohnen (left) and Nathan Taylor work on a robot during one of the Mars Robotics Association's practice sessions at the Mars Borough Municipal Building on Thursday. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Mars Robotics Association members, from left, Colby Kohnen, Nathan Taylor, Audrey Anderson, Alex Hutchens and Isaac Hanson, run through a practice game involving two robots during one of the association's practice meetings held at the Mars Borough Municipal Building on Thursday. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Mars Robotics Association members, from left, Colby Kohnen, Nathan Taylor, Audrey Anderson, Alex Hutchens and Isaac Hanson, run through a practice game involving two robots during one of the association's practice meetings held at the Mars Borough Municipal Building on Thursday. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
The Mars Robotics Association practices with several robots, including this one, which was being used during a practice session at the Mars Borough Municipal Building on Thursday. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Mars Robotics Association members, from left, Nathan Taylor, Audrey Anderson, Alex Hutchens and Isaac Hanson, run through a practice game involving two robots during one of the association's practice meetings held at the Mars Borough Municipal Building on Thursday. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Alex Hutchens carries his robot during one of the Mars Robotics Association's practice meetings held at the Mars Borough Municipal Building on Thursday. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Mars Robotics Association members, from left, Colby Kohnen, Nathan Taylor, Audrey Anderson, Alex Hutchens and Isaac Hanson, run through a practice game involving two robots during one of the association's practice meetings held at the Mars Municipal Center on Thursday, Feb. 29. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle (2/29/2024)
Mars Robotics Association members, from left, Colby Kohnen, Nathan Taylor, Audrey Anderson, Alex Hutchens and Isaac Hanson, run through a practice game involving two robots during one of the association's practice meetings held at the Mars Municipal Center on Thursday, Feb. 29. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle (2/29/2024)
Mars Robotics Association members, from left, Colby Kohnen, Nathan Taylor, Audrey Anderson, Alex Hutchens and Isaac Hanson, run through a practice game involving two robots during one of the association's practice meetings held at the Mars Municipal Center on Thursday, Feb. 29. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle (2/29/2024)
Nathan Taylor (left) and Alex Hutchens have fun while practicing with their robots during one of the Mars Robotics Association's practice meetings held at the Mars Municipal Center on Thursday, Feb. 29. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle (2/29/2024)
Nathan Taylor prepares his robot for a practice game during one of the Mars Robotics Association's practice meetings held at the Mars Municipal Center on Thursday, Feb. 29. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle (2/29/2024)

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