The New Canaan High School cafeteria could easily have been mistaken for a futuristic sports arena Saturday morning.

As the setting for the New Canaan and Masuk Southwest VEX Robotics Qualifier, 20 teams from 10 schools in three different states competed with their robots on Nov. 19.

If you're picturing a crazy robot battle you may have seen on television, where they destroy each other with blades and weapons, think again.

These robots do not battle each other, but they do compete.

Jim Zambarano, New Canaan's technology teacher, oversees New Canaan's robot team, RamTech.

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"It's not just about the competition," Zambarano said. "They get a chance to really understand the technology aspect of it all. It's a blast."

The competition itself works like a slow-motion

version of soccer and basketball mixed with horseshoes and, of course, robots Each school generally has just one or two robots. After the robots are placed on the field they have two minutes and 20 seconds to place as many spheres or cubes as possible onto the goal. Each colored object represents a certain amount of points. The tricky part is that the first 20 seconds of the game is under autonomous control. That means the students have to program the robot to pick up the rings and place them on the goal and hope it works out. After that, the final two minutes are under radio control, allowing the students to move the robots via remote control.

However, before the games begin, the robots need to be examined to make sure they adhere to safety guidelines as well as other criteria. Students are only allowed to use parts from the starter kit. No foreign items besides rubber bands and other smaller things can be added to the robot. Zamabarano noted that one year they had added some parts from other sources unaware of the regulations and were forced to change the robot on the spot.

"That turned out to be really great actually," Zambarano said. "It taught our students to think, react and problem solve on the fly."

Seniors Peter Castrovinci, Tyler Pelli, Bryan James, Sam Wiley, Holly Barra, junior Jessica Laird and sophomore Nick Walsh all contributed to build RamTech's robot this year, which they named "James." Building the robot wasn't easy. They first designed it to work somewhat like a forklift they said, but it did not work out. After multiple revisions, "James" ended up with claws that looked and worked like a vertical version of a crane game to grab and place the necessary objects into the goals. The students proudly discussed dealing with the unexpected in these competitions.

"With engineering, especially VEX Robotics, you always end up with an unexpected problem that could occur. Such as one of the motors failing during the competition or the battery running," James said. "But it's a very rewarding experience when you finally get to the competition and you see your robot in there doing well."

But it's not just the competition they find rewarding. Most of these students have grown up enjoying technology and the process behind constructing things.

"I think most of us were the kind of kids who grew up with LEGOS and always liked to build things and see the outcome," Castrovinci said. "So just the fact that we can all come together and combine our ideas and make one big robot is awesome."

Still, beyond all the technical jargon, competitions and engineering, the students really just like it for a chance to be creative.

"There is no one solution. It's not, this is the path you have to follow," Pelli said. "There is much more room for creativity and individuality in these robots."