Lancaster High Eagle Robotics' "X-1" robot launches a foam basketball to the net during rollout ceremonies in February. (NASA / Tom Tschida) › View Larger Image
FIRST Robotics: Building and Winning With Students
Four area high school robotics teams that are co-sponsored by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center failed to make it past the first rounds in the FIRST Robotics Competition and FIRST Tech Challenge championships in St. Louis, but they came away from the event with the knowledge that they had stretched their skills and challenged themselves in the process.
In the words of NASA Dryden chief technologist David Voracek, the long-time mentor of one of the teams, "This is not just about building and winning with the robots. It is about building and winning with the students.
"Of course, a robot winning would have been awesome, but sometimes things just do not work out," he added.
More than 400 teams competed in the FIRST Robotics Competition championships in four divisions during the April 25-28 event in St. Louis. Three of the four teams co-sponsored by NASA Dryden competed in the 100-team Galileo division. After the initial rounds, Antelope Valley High School's Robolopes, team 2339, was ranked 78th; Lancaster High's Eagle Robotics, team 399, was ranked 80th and Tehachapi High's Cyber Penguins placed 86th. None of the three were selected to be part of three-team alliances that would compete in the elimination rounds.
In the separate FIRST Tech Challenge for teams building and operating the smaller VEX robots, The Dryden-sponsored PHI Alpha team 452 placed 52nd out of 64 teams in the Franklin division, and also did not advance to the elimination rounds.
Voracek noted that Antelope Valley's team played very well with their robot concept, and it performed on the field. Voracek noted. The Lancaster High team made a major design modification to their "X-1" robot in the weeks preceding the championships that didn't function as well as hoped during the event. The Tehachapi High team had connection problems all day, a situation common to many of the robots.
"The robotics competition is a means to entice the students to be innovative and do something they may not get in a regular high school environment," said Voracek. "NASA supports the teams and the FIRST competition to help encourage the students to seek out higher education and go into robotics, engineering, and other science and technology fields.
"With this program we now have students going into schools such as MIT, Berkeley, UCLA, USC and other great engineering and science schools," he added. "No matter how well we do with the robot, the focus is on helping these students to learn skills, take risks, be innovative to be able to compete in a highly technical and competitive world. The competition is just a means to the end."
In addition to the high school teams, a Junior Lego League team from Lancaster, Calif., also participated in the elementary Junior Lego League division for children from 6 to 9 years if age. Led by advisor Adriane Holmes from Tierra Bonita Elementary School in Lancaster, the team included students from several schools, and received a "FIRST Class" award at the end of their games.
FIRST -- For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology -- was established in 1989 by Dean Kamen to inspire curiosity and create interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) among high school students. Encouraging students to pursue STEM studies and careers is also the major focus of NASA's education programs. NASA has participated in the FIRST program since 1995, and is the largest single participant sponsor.
In addition to sponsorship by NASA Dryden, numerous civic and business entities in their respective communities co-sponsor area high school robotics teams in the FIRST Robotics Competition, the FIRST Tech Challenge and other robotics endeavors for middle- and elementary-school students.
For more on the high school robotics teams co-sponsored by NASA Dryden, visit:
For more on the FIRST Robotics Competition, visit:
Alan Brown, Public Affairs
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center