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March 26, 2003
Jonas Diño
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Phone: 650/604-5612 or 650/604-9000
E-mail: jonas.g.dino@nasa.gov


RELEASE: 03-17AR

NOTE TO EDITORS AND NEWS DIRECTORS:
News media are invited to observe the FIRST Robotics Silicon Valley Regional competition for students. The competition will be held Thursday March 27 to Saturday March 29, 2003, in the Event Center at San Jose State University, 290 South 7th Street, San Jose, Calif. Practice rounds will be on Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST. Competition will take place on Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST. Finals and awards ceremonies will be on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. PST. Students and their mentors will be available for interviews following each round of competition. To reach the event center, take Interstate 280 to San Jose and exit north on 7th Street. There is no charge for admission.

STUDENTS AND ROBOTS SEEK POINTS AND GLORY IN ‘STACK ATTACK’S

Engineering skills, strategy and teamwork will again take center stage as high school robotics teams converge in San José, March 27 to 29, 2003.

Hundreds of students in 46 teams from around the country will be putting six weeks of intense research, planning and engineering to the test at the Event Center at San José State University in San José, Calif., for the FIRST (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Silicon Valley regional robotics competition. Although every team started out with the same kit of parts provided by FIRST, there will be many unique robots at this event.

“Education is a mission priority at NASA, and robotics represent one of the most powerful ways to inspire students to continue their math, science and technology education,” said Mark Leon, project manager for the NASA Robotics Education Project at NASA Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. “The inspiration for NASA’s future missions of exploration may come from these very students.”

Each year, teams are given a ‘problem,’ six weeks and identical kits of mechanical parts. With the help of mentors from NASA, industry and academia, teams are free to explore the infinite possibilities in design and strategy to accomplish their goals. Designs are based on the team’s interpretation of the competition’s requirements and the strategies that team chooses to deploy.

Working side-by-side with professional engineers and technicians from their sponsoring corporations, colleges and government agencies, the students have a chance to see what real-world engineering is all about. Through this unique hands-on experience the students gain valuable knowledge of engineering, mechanics, project leadership, time management, task sequencing, physics, computers and teamwork.

This year’s competition, ‘Stack Attack’ introduces new elements to the FIRST competitions. The first 10 seconds in each round will be non-robotic, with a team member placing storage bins in the scoring area, followed by 15 seconds of preprogrammed or autonomous operation.

Students will be in control of their robots for the remaining one minute and 45 seconds. The object of the competition is to put as many storage bins in a team’s scoring area as possible before time expires. Extra points are awarded for stacked bins and robots located in a designated area.

Thursday, March 27, will mark the first time students have seen their robots since the 6-week development period ended. The teams will use the time before Friday and Saturday’s competition rounds to practice strategy and finalize mechanical adjustments to their robots. In the ‘pits,’ students will also be perfecting the art of scouting out the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents’ robots. Ranking for competition rounds will be based on ranking determined by the round-robin practice runs.

“These competitions are making a difference in these students’ lives; you can see it in their eyes as they are working on their robots or competing in the arena,” said Joe Hering of the Robotics Education Project at NASA Ames. “Students are actually using their classroom knowledge of math, science and technology in a practical, hands-on environment and enjoyable environment.”

In 2003, the competition will reach more than 20,000 students on more than 800 teams in 24 regional competitions to be held over the five-week regional competition season. NASA sponsors seven of the regional competitions and 200 of the nearly 800 teams participating in the 2003 FIRST competition. The winners of these regional competitions will compete in the FIRST Robotics Championship in Houston in April. Regional and national awards are presented for excellence in design, engineering innovation, control systems, demonstrated team spirit, sportsmanship, creativity and many other categories. Teams represent almost every U.S. state, Canada, Brazil and England.

NASA’s Robotics Education Project is supported through the NASA Office of Space Science, Washington, and is directed by David Lavery, program executive for Solar System Exploration. The Robotics Education Project supports a variety of educational initiatives, including FIRST Robotics, which uses robotics to motivate students to continue their education especially in the areas of math, science and technology.

FIRST was established in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen to motivate students to enter careers in math, science and engineering. The organization's mission is to design accessible, innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills. The competition shows students that the technological fields hold many opportunities and that the basic concepts of science, math, engineering and invention are exciting and interesting. FIRST is in its twelfth year of competition.

The NASA Robotics Education Project Web site can be found at: http://robotics.nasa.gov

A complete list of the regional events, corporate sponsors and other details can be found at the FIRST website at: http://www.usfirst.org

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