The whir of electric motors filled the arena, a sound only topped by the buzz of boys and girls at the controls.

Every round of the robotics competition started with an announcer's booming alert: "Drivers! You're up!"

Moments later, four handmade robots resembling motorized Erector Sets rumbled around a 12-foot by 12-foot "pit," carrying out simple tasks and complicated maneuvers -- and occasionally getting stuck.

Goals included moving balls from one end to another, knocking large ones off rails, and picking up small ones and dropping them into a cylinder.

Twenty-six middle school and high school teams from Long Island vied for robotics honors Saturday in a student lounge at Adelphi University in Garden City.

After a tough round, Alex Tolpin, 17, and his team took robot "Gloria" back to their impromptu workshop for an emergency battery replacement.

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"You can't really prepare for motors overheating," said Tolpin, a Jericho High School senior. "You kind of have to improvise."

Robotics strategy begins in the design phase, when teams decide whether to build something complex that's capable of the highest-scoring maneuvers, or something leaner and meaner that can pile up easy points.

"I sort of learned the less complex it is, the easier it is to do it," said Kyle Fahey, 12, a seventh-grader at R.M. Finley Middle School in Glen Cove.

His "Men in Black" team dubbed their remote-controlled creation "Will Smith" -- a low-slung, four-wheeled machine with a large scoop capable of picking up and pushing balls.

Fahey was proud of how their design had crushed the overwrought competition in an earlier round.

"We got way more points than they did," he said.

The Robotic Education and Competition Foundation ran the regional competition with Adelphi. The national championship will be held in Anaheim, Calif., in April.