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Students square off in Las Vegas for robot battles


Steve Marcus

Riley Mulcahy, left, 9, competes against Brando Turner during “M” (manual division) of the K*bot World Championships at the Veterans Memorial Leisure Services Center in Summerlin Thursday, July 26, 2011. Turner’s bot had an innovative rotating hammer but it wasn’t enough to win the match.

2011 K*bot World Championships

Brothers Riley, 9, and Brendan Mulcahy, 13 pose with their K*bots during the K*bot World Championships at the Veterans Memorial Leisure Services Center in Summerlin Thursday, July 26, 2011. The K*bots are created using K'Nex Construction kits. Launch slideshow »

K'nex Kbots World Championship

K'nex Kbots held it's World Championship in Las Vegas.

People from all over the world travel to Las Vegas for its gambling, over-the-top resorts, fine dining and exotic nightclubs. But what about jumping on a plane to Vegas so you could fight toy robots that you’d built yourself.

And what if the people coming here for this weeklong battle bootcamp based upon brainpower weren’t even old enough to drive?

That’s exactly what the Vegas experience means to those participating in the 10th annual K*Bot World Championships, held here annually. This year’s camp-like competition is being waged at the Veterans Memorial Leisure Services Center, near Palo Verde High School, and concludes today.

As Thomas Vermersch looked across the busy room filled with enough smarts to make any chess team envious, he couldn’t help but smile.

During the summer of 1998, while teaching at the San Antonio Academy — a private grade school in Texas — Vermersch invented K*bots, which are toy robots students built out of Lego-like K’Nex Industries parts.

The K*bots were invented to help students understand engineering principles such as torque, traction, gearing, braking and center of gravity.

“These were students who were highly gifted,” said Vermersch, who now lives in Las Vegas. “One day, a couple of the students put the K*bots into battle.”

And now each summer, the best of the best of these young builders come to Las Vegas to find out who can build the most durable robot out of the colorful K’Nex construction toys.

A total of 144 competitors from across the United States and several other countries, including England and South Korea, are in town to participate in this year’s K*Bot World Championships.

The competition is broken into four divisions: Division M, Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3.

The Division M competition, featuring K*Bots weighing less than a pound, took place Thursday. The winner, Harrison Stanton of Henderson, became the first competitor to capture four world championships in K*Bot tournament action — he has three previous titles in Division M and one in Division 2.

Stanton, 16, captured his latest title in quick fashion as he defeated Joseph Amar of Las Vegas by flipping Amar’s K*bot out of bounds.

“It’s really cool,” Stanton said. “It just really feels good to be so good at something.”

K*Bot scoring rules include points for damaging an opponents K*bot. Similar to boxing, a competitor can win by knockout by flipping the opponent’s K*bot out of bounds.

Stanton hopes to add to his record-setting resume with a fifth trophy today in the Division 3 championship for remote-control K*bots with three motors.

“I’d like to tell people how cool K*Bots are,” Stanton said. “It’s all about imagination, creativity, and it’s really just awesome to do.”

Stanton, who hopes to pursue a career in computer science or engineering, will be forced to retire after this year because of age restrictions. This year’s youngest competitors are just 7 years old.

Brendan Mulcahy of Las Vegas, meanwhile, was upset in the semifinals of the Division M world championship by Amar.

Mulcahy, 13, has won three K*bot world championships in six years of competition. He has won a world championship in each division except Division M.

“Division M is like playing a giant game of chess, only with two pieces,” Mulcahy said. “You have to think before the other person does and figure out by where his hands are and how he is using his hands. And in a few pushes, you can get an idea of where he’s going to go next.”

Mulcahy, whose father is a mechanical engineer for Plumbing Desert & Heating, hopes to pursue a career as a robotic engineer.

Engineering runs in the Mulcahy family. Brendan’s younger brother, Riley, 9, also competes in the K*Bot World Championships.

Riley was defeated in the second round of the Division M competition by Tanner Ravize of Summerlin. Riley, however, made it to the Division M semifinals the last two years.

The 2011 K*Bot World Championships wrap up today.

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