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April 28, 1999

John Bluck

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

Phone: 650/604-5026 or 604-9000

E-mail: jbluck@mail.arc.nasa.gov


Karen Smyth

SRI International, Menlo Park, CA

650-859-4874

karen.smyth@sri.com


RELEASE: 99-25AR

NOTE TO EDITORS AND NEWS DIRECTORS: You are invited to attend a May 1 mini robot `botball' contest from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. PDT in the ballroom of the Moffett Training and Conference Center, Bldg. 3, at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. To go to Ames, take the Moffett Field exit off Highway 101, drive east to the main gate of Moffett Federal Airfield for directions to the contest location. Media representatives may arrive early, if they wish. U.S. media representatives who are U.S. citizens or have green cards must have valid press pass credentials with picture ID in order to enter Ames.

NASA AMES TO HOST STUDENT MINI-ROBOT COMPETITION

Hundreds of students and 18 teams from 13 California high schools and their mini robots will compete Saturday, May 1, in a `botball' contest hosted by NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA.

Two robot teams will `do battle' at a time, trying to put the most Ping-Pong balls into a target within a set time limit. The small, one-foot robots compete on a smooth, 4-foot by 8-foot playing surface.

"There's a great need to turn students on to today's technology, and I see Botball as satisfying that need," said Terry Grant, an engineer at NASA Ames who volunteered to help students and teachers. "The competition is new and different; students like the challenge, and they really like to see something that they have built `come to life' when the robot moves on its own."

Schools received kits to enable students to build robots. Each kit contains hundreds of parts as well as sensors, motors, a battery-powered microcomputer/controller and programming software.

"I find it a challenge to support the students and teachers," Grant said. "The students learn how to work under pressure because they are only given five or six weeks to prepare for the contest."

The botball program teaches students C computer programming as well as increases their skills and interest in mathematics, science, physics and design, according to organizers. In addition, teachers attended a three-day hands-on tutorial to learn how to use robotic equipment as well as how to include the robotics in their regular science and mathematics curricula.

Students created the mini robots with help from their teachers and representatives of the sponsoring organizations. Students were required to program the robots to operate on their own. Remote control of the robots during the contest is not permitted. The schools provided desktop computers and workspace. No machine tools or electronics labs were required for assembly of the robots. The schools will retain the robotic equipment for later educational use.

"Botball also challenges students to learn and use Internet research skills for the research-design project portion of the tournament," Grant said.

The program provides hands-on education to the students by linking them with companies, government agencies and colleges. The project is co-sponsored by Ames and the non-profit KISS Institute for Practical Robotics, Reston, VA. The Institute has encouraged similar contests in other parts of the country. In addition to NASA Ames, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA; and non-profit research organization SRI International, Menlo Park, CA, are co-sponsors.

Participating high schools include: American, Fremont, CA; Tennyson, Hayward, CA; Jordon, Los Angeles, CA; Menlo-Atherton, Menlo Park, CA; Freedom, Oakley, CA; Castilleja, Palo Alto, CA; John Muir, Pasadena, CA; Oak Ridge, El Dorado Hills, CA; and Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Hill, Blackford, Broadway and Foothill, all in San Jose, CA.

Additional information about the botball contest is on the Internet on the KISS web site, http://www.kipr.org/ and http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/botball on the Ames web site.

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