Mo can't talk, hug or high five. But he’s smart and a stud at disc golf.

He also has made some great friends while getting fine-tuned for a regional robotics competition in Denver.

Mo is a 100 pound robot built by 27 local students from Stevens, Central, St. Thomas Moore and Hill City high schools and their 10 advisers, made up of teachers, professors and engineers.

"Yeah, they've grown emotionally bonded to Mo," said Lance Wright, leader and mentor for team Rapid Acceleration. Wright is also an associate engineering checker for Caterpillar Inc., which is sponsoring the team.

On Saturday, the students were buzzing around a classroom and in the hall in the McLaury Building on the campus of South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. Some were hunched over Mo with screwdrivers and drills making adjustments to his motors, wheels and electronic components.

Others sat at computers tweaking the programming code. And some were in the hallway setting up the testing equipment.

They only had a few days left to make sure Mo is in top form. On Tuesday, he will be shipped to Denver, where he will wait until the only team from South Dakota arrives for the regional FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition held April 4-6. The building period lasts only six weeks, and the rules state the robot must be sent to the competition to ensure no more work is being performed.

Mo will play Ultimate Ascent, a game similar to disc golf. The robots will shoot discs into goals, defend against robots from other teams and climb a pyramid structure as part of this year’s robotics competition. Each year, a new game is created.

Wright said he is impressed with the team. He said their diligence and hard work really shows and they should stack up well against the competition, especially the other first-timers.

"We're going for rookie of the year," said Bryce Brinker, a junior at Stevens High School. "But I think it will be a lot of fun."

The FIRST Robotics Competition is called a varsity sport for the mind, and this team is as dedicated as any other team, according to Wright.

The group started by taking basic engineering and robotics classes in October and began working full time on the project in January. Team members meet every day except Sunday. With strict rules regarding construction, materials, budget and time, the team has had to learn from the process of trial and error.

"The first time we tested it, well, technically it shot the Frisbees," Wright said, smiling. "But after that first test, we changed the wheels, the number of motors, type of motors — pretty much everything."

Wright said he looks forward to the Denver competition, where they will go up against 48 other teams. He compares it to a state basketball tournament with lots of team spirit, loud music and the thrill of competition.

The students said they are most looking forward to meeting other teams, making alliances and seeing the other robots.

"We know we've all run in to similar problems, and I'm looking forward to seeing the way the other teams overcame that," said Jarrad Tait, a freshman at Stevens.

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Spending at least three hours after school and up to nine hours of their Saturdays together has been a bonding experience for the team.

And Mo is like a pet.

When asked about what happens to the robot after the competition, a collective sadness washes over their faces.

"Well, we have all summer to play with him," said Chezka Gaddi, a senior at Stevens. She said they have discussed taking Mo to the dog park so he can throw Frisbees to an eager audience.

Later, Mo will have to be taken apart to provide parts for next year's robot.

"Maybe I'll come back and be a mentor," Gaddi said, lamenting the fact that she can't compete next year.

For Gaddi and everyone on the team, the hundreds of hours, sweat and sacrifice they have put into this project will all be worth it in April when they make the trek to Denver for the big game.

But perhaps the hardest part of all will be saying goodbye to a Frisbee-throwing robot named Mo.

Contact Jennifer Naylor Gesick at 394-8415 or jennifer.naylorgesick@rapidcityjournal.com.

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