Lancaster High Eagle Robotics team's 2010 robot shows its stuff during an informal post-season competition last summer. (Courtesy photo)
› View Larger Photo Three local high school robotics teams co-sponsored by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center geared up for their 2011 season Jan. 8 at a FIRST robotics kickoff event at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Teams from Lancaster, Antelope Valley and Tehachapi high schools picked up their parts kits for the 2011 spring competition, learned this year's game, connected with mentors and exchanged ideas for designing and building their robots. The teams will compete in various regional competitions in March and April.
Each year, FIRST – For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology – presents a new robotics competition scenario with twists and nuances designed to challenge both rookie and veteran teams. Each team receives a parts kit and has six weeks to design and build a robot based on the team's interpretation of the game scenario. Other than dimension and weight restrictions, the look and function of the robots is up to each individual team.
Following rollout events in mid-February at which their 2011 robots will be demonstrated for the public, the Lancaster and Antelope Valley high school teams are scheduled to participate in regional competitions March 10-12 in San Diego and March 24-26 in Long Beach. Tehachapi High's team will be participating in the competition in Las Vegas March 31-April 2, and is on the waiting list for the San Diego competition scheduled three weeks earlier.
The regional contests involving the local teams are among 45 regional and four international competitions leading up to the FIRST Robotics Championship in St. Louis on April 27-30, the final and largest event of the annual competition.
NASA Dryden's Office of Education co-sponsors the Lancaster High School Eagle Robotics, the Tehachapi High School Cyber Penguins and also provides support to Antelope Valley High School's Robolopes team. Other major sponsors include the International Test and Evaluation Association, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, The Boeing Co., the Antelope Valley Union High School District, Arcata Associates, HR Textron and several other business and community groups.
FIRST is a non-profit organization founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people, their schools and communities. The robotics program was developed to inspire curiosity and create interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics among high school students. The competitions give students the opportunity to design, build, test and compete a robot that can perform specific functions. FIRST also gives students a crucial mentoring experience with NASA and other technical professionals, who help them explore solutions to robotics problems and understand real-world challenges faced by engineers and researchers.
NASA plays a significant role in the robotics programs to encourage young people to investigate careers in the sciences and engineering. Through the NASA Robotics Alliance Project, the agency provides grants for 297 teams and sponsors four regional student competitions, including a new FIRST regional competition in Washington, D.C. NASA engineers and scientists participate with many of these teams as technical participants and student mentors. Through these mentoring activities, NASA engineers are able to directly share their expertise and experiences with the nation's next generation of technical leaders.