HELENA – A group of Helena middle- and high-school students will showcase their skills in robotics at a worldwide competition.

Team Fusion took a top award at the FIRST Tech Challenge Super-Regional Championship in Spokane, Washington, earlier this month. That qualified them to take part in the World Championship in Houston in April. They will be among just 128 teams, out of thousands that started the competition.

Each year, the FIRST Tech Challenge requires teams to design, build and program a robot to perform a different set of tasks. This year, Fusion’s entry is a small, 18-inch by 18-inch robot called “Hadron,” after the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. It can pick up and stack blocks, carry large plastic “relics,” and even distinguish between a red ball and a blue one. Hadron is controlled by two cell phones connected through an app.

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Each team member plays a different role, from creating computer models of the robot to building it and programming it to make certain moves automatically.

Team members say this has been a special experience for them.

“We have so much fun as a team; we’re all so close,” said Emily Ellis, a sophomore at Helena High School. “During competition, we’ll go to the hotel, invite other teams, play games and have a huge game night. It’s just a huge team-based system. But also we get to build cool robots.”

Fusion is an independent team, not sponsored by any school. This will be the third time they have qualified for the world championship since the team was founded in 2010.

The team is currently raising money to pay for their trip to Texas. Coaches estimate the cost for airfare, hotels and shipping their robot and tools will be close to $10,000.

If you would like to donate, you can find out how at the team’s website.

Team Fusion is open to students ranging from seventh grade to high school seniors. Members say they are always interested in adding new members. Applications are available on the team website.

Ellis said being part of the team is a great opportunity to build skills in the STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering and math.

“Those jobs are going to take over the world someday, so we need to get an early start and teach as many people as we can about robotics and STEM,” she said.

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