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April 10, 2000

John Bluck

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

Phone: 650/604-5026 or 650/604-9000

jbluck@mail.arc.nasa.gov


Lorraine Guerin

East Side Union High School District, San José, CA

Phone: 408/347-5040 GUERINL@esuhsd.org


Stan Smart

Vintage High School, Napa, CA

Phone: 707/253-3601


RELEASE: 00-28AR

NASA-SPONSORED LOCAL STUDENT TEAMS WIN NATIONAL ROBOT GAMES

Two San Francisco Bay Area student robot teams joined with a New Jersey team to win the FIRST national robotic games championship Saturday, April 8 at Walt Disney World's EPCOT Center, Orlando, FL, in a competition among 268 robots from high schools across the nation.

Student-made robots formed "alliances" to lift large balls and put them into a container during the competition, the ninth annual event of its kind. The winning teams from Foothill High School, San José, CA, and Vintage High School, Napa, CA, both sponsored by NASA’s Ames Research Center, located in California’s Silicon Valley, joined with North Brunswick Township High School, North Brunswick, NJ, to win FIRST's annual contest.

"This victory marks an exceptional achievement in that no team west of the Mississippi has won this national event since 1995, " said Mark León of NASA Ames. "The most remarkable point of this accomplishment is that the team from Foothill High School is composed of youths at risk."

NASA worked cooperatively with a non-profit group, "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology," (FIRST), of Manchester, NH, which organizes the contests.

"I almost fainted when we won," said Alan Federman, an engineer who works at NASA Ames, and who is a mentor for the San José team. "In the finals we were battered in the first match, losing 7 to 11. Our allies took it to the competition, shutting their scoring down due to incredible engineering by the New Brunswick students. Their robots' arm guarded or stole balls from our opponents," Federman reported.

Organizers say the overall goal of the robot games is to allow students to interact with engineers so that youths can see the connection between classroom instruction and the real world. Each year FIRST develops the competition and supplies "a problem" and a kit of parts to teams of students.

"It all came together with an extreme amount of teamwork from the three teams that formed our alliance," said science teacher Dave Lockhart, an advisor to the Napa team. "It was a phenomenal experience; good strategy and engineering played a big part," he said.

"It was incredibly exciting," said Jeff Ota, a former NASA engineer and a school board member of the East Side Union High School District that encompasses Foothill High School. Youths and their advisors designed and constructed their remote-control robots in six weeks. Advisors are often professional engineers from private industry, government and universities.

"Foothill is a continuation school with limited resources," Federman said. The school received $6,000 from NASA Ames and additional funding from the school district, he explained. "The dozen kids on the team are mostly Mexican and Asian in heritage. A dedicated team of three engineers, two from FROG Design, Sunnyvale, CA, and one from NASA (Raytheon) were assisted by three super teachers," Federman noted.

"The robot was assembled totally in a classroom," said Federman. "The only machine shop tool on campus is a drill press. Some off-site work was done at FROG Design where an aluminum plate for wheels and the extruded aluminum members for the chassis were cut to size."

"This is beyond our wildest dreams," said Federman. "We were about 192nd in last year's nationals; we were the number ten seed in this year's competition," he explained.

"This year NASA is proud that we sponsored 108 teams nationwide," said León. "The endeavors in which the students engaged for this competition were truly impressive, and we expect that in the future some of these students will be the engineers and designers of our robotic planetary exploration program," he stated.

FIRST was started in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen to persuade American youth that engineering and technology are exciting fields. Tom Dyson, telephone (650/604-6601), and Joseph Hering (650/604-2008), both of Ames, have more information about the robotics games. These websites also contain additional details: http://robotics.nasa.gov/first.html, http://www.usfirst.org and http://robotics.nasa.gov/foothill

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