Zebracorns members and mentorsFor years, the NCSSM-based robotics team called the Zebracorns has pitted their machines against others in a number of high-energy challenges organized by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an international not-for-profit organization that promotes STEM fields through team-based robotics programs. Now, the Zebracorns are in the running to have a challenge of their own design, called Farming Frenzy, as part of future FIRST competitions. The team was just named one of 20 global finalists (chosen from 1,378 entries) in FIRST’s Game Design Challenge. This is a big deal. FIRST is renowned internationally, and their robotics competitions are spectacles of light, energy, and enthusiastic displays of emotion. Perhaps in no other setting will you see so many young people go so nuts over robots. In a Facebook post, the Zebracorns describe their challenge like this: “Farming Frenzy revolves around a theme of agricultural robotics and implements a wide variety of scoring mechanisms and challenges. Through time-based scoring, teams battle to maintain a successful farm by scoring and protecting crops in silos and mills.” Despite the challenge’s name, there are no tractors or clumps of turned soil here. Instead, the challenge looks like what you might imagine if someone combined a box of crayons with the games of volleyball, basketball, and disc golf, placed it in a playing arena evoking American Ninja Warrior, and opened the floor to scurrying robots which sometimes can think for themselves. It’s wild. And it’s fascinating. “With so much chaos and hardship this year, working with everyone on our game has been a consistent source of joy,” said team member and recent NCSSM graduate Elijah Parish. “We’ve spent hundreds of hours together, crafting every detail. There’s a lot of passion for game design on this team, and an even greater love for robotics; having a chance to bring those two together on the world stage is absolutely exhilarating.” Meg Massengill, one of the team’s adult mentors, expressed admiration for the Zebracorns’ perseverance during such a challenging time. “In a very strange year, I have been continually impressed with the work and dedication of these students. Normally, we all rally around building a physical robot and the excitement of seeing that robot compete at competition is what drives us. This year, the students rallied even without ever being able to step foot into our lab. They have poured their hearts into this project and designed a game that would be exciting to play and watch.” Winners will be announced on June 26. View and share the team’s Facebook post here. You can also vote for the Zebracorns (Team 900: Farming Frenzy) to win the Community Choice award here.