By Bob Balgemann


BELVIDERE – It’s regional competition time again, with Boone County’s Flaming Monkeys robotics team slated to be in Milwaukee on Saturday for the first of two consecutive regional tournaments.

The goal is to finish high enough there, or in Chicago in April, to reach the World Championships in St. Louis, Mo.

They did so six years ago, in their inaugural season. They were selected by one of the teams in the Top 8 to form a three-team alliance in competition with other clubs from around the world.

Zach Hoegberg, current president of the Monkeys, a 4-H club, said they want to be one of the eight choosing others to accompany them to St. Louis.

He was at an open house last Saturday in the lower level of the club’s home base in the Belvidere Township office building at 8200 Fairgrounds Road.

Township Supervisor Pat Murphy and other officials made the space available to them in 2012. Up until that that time they had been building, designing, programming and testing robots at the Matt Jenkins home.

Last year, Murphy was honored at a regional competition with the “Make It Loud” award, for his dedication to the Monkeys and overall interest in robotics.

Now a middle school team, named the Atomic Chimps and for those 9-13 years of age, shares space at the township office. And a third robotics team, the recently formed Techno Tamarians for wider range of enthusiasts, is based at the R&D Thiel Carpenter Contractors of America building in Belvidere.

Zach is a junior at Belvidere High School, though he takes classes at Rock Valley College through the Running Start program. He is in his third year with the Flaming Monkeys.

He explained that this year’s competiton is different than in the past.

Before the student-built robots would throw things, such as balls and discs, at targets, such as slits in boards and basketball hoops. All that while competing for space on a court with other teams’ robots.

This year the competition will be less confrontational, with the individual robot’s ability to do a specific task earning points. The goal is to stack totes on the rear of the machine. Bonus points will be awarded if the driver is able to put a garbage can on top of the totes.

The Monkeys were allowed to remove their competition robot from a plastic enclosure, where it had been put a few weeks ago, during a demonstration at the township open house. The competition team was not able to operate the machine and after four years of freedom, it was put wrapped up again to await this week’s trip to Milwaukee.

Zach said the team goes to Milwaukee mostly for practice and to compete against stronger opponents than they will see in Chicago a bit later. There will be about 55 robots at both regionals, he said.

Locally, teams from Roscoe and Stateline will join Boone County in Milwaukee, with Rockford and Winnebago teams going to Chicago.

There are regional competitions around the world including Canada, Israel, Mexico and Australia. From those events some 600 teams will converge on St. Louis, where they will be divided into eight fields of 75 each.

Major sponsors for the Flaming Monkeys are Best Buy Children’s Foundation, SJTI, Belvidere Township, IEEE, Woodward, United Technologies and FCA Foundation.

The Techno Tamarians are sponsored by Print World, R and D Thiel, Area Mechanical and FIRST Tech Challenge, which organized the first robotics tournament in 1992 at a high school in New Hampshire.

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