Catherine Ross, Collin County Reporter
Students at McKinney North High School are finishing preparation for the FIRST® Robotics Competition at the Dallas Convention Center.
Robots have taken over a few classrooms at three McKinney Independent School District high schools since January.
Teams representing McKinney High School, McKinney North High School and McKinney Boyd High School will enter their creations at the FIRST Robotics Regional Competition next week in Dallas.
"With the time frame we had, it's amazing how far we got," said Kendra Magnuson, McKinney North sophomore.
According to competition rules, every team has just six weeks to design, build and program its robot to do simple tasks.
This year, the robot will be scored on its ability to shoot a basketball into a hoop.
"This kind of thing, if it was available when I was in high school -- I would have been all over it," said Michael Martinez, a mechanical engineer who volunteers for the McKinney North team.
Rookie teams face certain challenges, but the McKinney North team's design rivals something that a team of professional engineers could have designed, he said.
However, the team faced frustrating challenges -- especially when it came to programming. Magnuson said team members would sometimes get there at 7 a.m. and work until 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.
She monitors hundreds of pages of manuals for her team and the 74-page rule book.
Her twin sister, Kiana, said she hopes to pursue a career in engineering.
"I love building stuff -- for example, working with my hands, figuring out how to solve [problems] and how to do the equation," she said.
Martinez said the hours of problem-solving pay off when students see their design come to life.
"You see the lightbulb come on, and it makes it all worthwhile," he said.
This is the first time McKinney ISD has entered a competition as large or rigorous as the FIRST Robotics Competition.
The schools are able to participate largely because of grants totaling $39,000 from the Texas Workforce Commission and the J.C. Penney Co.
District officials said they hope to grow the robotics program, regardless of the results of competition.