VEX competition students bounce back after robots stolen from hotel

Published: Apr. 24, 2017 at 8:37 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 24, 2017 at 11:31 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A national robotics championship is taking place at the Kentucky Expo Center, and a team from New Jersey is faced with more than just the challenge of competition.

For a week, the Expo Center is home to visitors from all over the country. There are license plates from all over the nation in the parking lot - Ohio, Florida, Missouri and Maryland just to name a few.

Just like thousands of others at the VEX Robotics World Championship, two kids from New Jersey put in a lot of work to get here.

"We had to take a few extra classes," Zachary Lee, a 10-year-old competing on Team Dinosaur from Summit, NJ said.

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Lee and his teammate, Vikram Singh, created a complex game that they have to maneuver with their homemade, remote-controlled robot.

"You have to get those two blobs and put them into here," Singh said, pointing to what looks like a small cubby.

The point of the game is to use the robot to pick up plastic blobs and move them to the other side of the stadium, then deposit as many blobs as you can in one minute. The player with the most blobs wins.

The kids have put in months of work, not just practicing, but also building the robots they use.

Then, they heard their trailer filled with those robots was stolen.

"I thought it was a joke," Singh said, with a deadpan look on his face.

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"They thought I was joking because I joke around a lot," coach Chris Marbaix said.

Marbaix said when it finally hit the kids that there was no joke, everyone was very upset.

Months of work was gone from a local hotel parking lot early Sunday morning.

"They have video; they gave that to the police," Marbaix said. "I filed a police report."

Luckily, the Robotics Education Competition Foundation was able to step in and fly in some kits for the kids.

"They gave those to us, and at 9:30 at night, they came to the hotel and delivered them," Marbaix said. "We had a build party, way past my bedtime!"

The new robots are definitely not the ones they built to compete with. However, the kids were in good spirits, fired up again just at the thought of being able to participate.

"Very confident," Singh said as Lee nodded.

Marbaix is smiling again because the community has been so generous.

"We had teams that offered us parts," Marbaix said. "We had teams that offered us a practice field that we were able to bring back to the hotel."

It is an unfortunate lesson learned, but the kids showed resilience and flexibility, treating the situation as another hurdle to jump over.

"It's really cool the way the kids like to problem-solve," Marbaix said. "They see this as a problem and they go out and solve it."

Anyone with information about a white, unmarked trailer missing from the Hilton Garden Inn hotel parking lot should call 574-LMPD (5673). The trailer should have a New Jersey license plate.

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