The Robolopes robotics team from Antelope Valley High School in Lancaster, Calif., unveiled its robot entry for the 2010 FIRST robotics competition season Feb. 17. Dressed in an Alice in Wonderland theme for the robot's rollout, the team named its robot the White Rabbit. The team is one of seven high school and middle school robotics teams sponsored or supported by NASA Dryden. (Photo courtesy Cecelia Cordova) Several high school robotics teams sponsored or supported in part by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center rolled out their 2010 robots in mid-February. These teams participate in competitions organized by the non-profit FIRST - For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology – organization with the goal of increasing student interest in mathematics, science and technology-based career fields.
The teams are given six weeks to design and construct a working robot from basic materials provided in a kit from FIRST and additional parts needed to compete in each year's games. The teams and their robots then perform specific tasks dictated by FIRST during the regional and national competitions.
This year's competition requires the robots to shoot balls into goals on either end of a court, with the court being divided into three sections by two barriers robots must climb over. Teams can also earn extra points at each competition by hooking their robot to an overhead tower and winching it aloft, with additional points granted for hoisting another team's robot along with their own.
NASA Dryden has sponsored several high school robotics teams, beginning with the Lancaster High School Eagle Robotics team in 2000, under NASA's Robotics Alliance project. The project is designed to expand the national resource of experienced, talented robotics experts who could help develop future robotics systems needed by NASA and to support national investment in the robotics market.
Similarly, the FIRST robotics competitions are intended to inspire the next generation to become more involved with mathematics, science and technology. They are also meant to facilitate robotics curriculum enhancements at all educational levels and develop a national clearinghouse for robotics education and career resources.
Onlookers crowd around Tehachapi High School robotics team member Brandon House as he explains details of the team's robot design and functions at the team's annual robot rollout Feb. 20 (Courtesy photo / Mark Pestana) In addition to the Eagle Robotics team 399 from Lancaster High School in Lancaster, Calif., NASA Dryden also sponsors the Cyber Penguins team 585 from Tehachapi High School in Tehachapi, Calif. NASA Dryden's center director David McBride and Mark Leon, Robotics Alliance project manager at NASA's Ames Research Center near San Jose, attended the unveiling of the Lancaster High Eagle Robotics team's 2010 robot, The Wizard, at a Wizard of Oz-themed event at the school Feb. 16. Tehachapi High's team demonstrated their machine at a chili cook-off event Feb. 21.
NASA Dryden also helps support several other robotics teams, including the "Robolopes" team 2339 at Antelope Valley High School in Lancaster, Calif., now in its third year of competing in the FIRST competitions. Developed around an Alice in Wonderland theme, the 15-member team – dressed in theme costume - unveiled its White Rabbit creation at a school ceremony Feb. 17. The center also supports the Power through Higher Innovation or PHI team 452 and the "Garagebots" team 72 that participates in a separate FIRST Tech Challenge competition using a smaller robot.
The Lancaster High Team will compete in regional competitions in Phoenix March 11-13 and in Denver March 25-27. Antelope Valley High's team will participate in regional games in San Diego March 4-6 and in Long Beach March 25-27. The Tehachapi High team will compete in regional games in Salt Lake City March 18-20 and at the Las Vegas regional April 1-3.
The PHI and Garagebot teams participated in FIRST Tech Challenge regional competitions in Los Angeles and San Diego in January, teaming up to win the San Diego event. The PHI team also participated in the Las Vegas regional competition and received the Inspire award, the judges' top award, qualifying them to go to the FIRST national robotics championship in Atlanta in mid-April. The Garagebots also have a chance to go to the nationals in Atlanta via a lottery following their regional win in San Diego.
A number of current or retired NASA Dryden civil service or contractor employees serve as mentors to the Dryden-supported teams during their spring season, among them Joe Pahle and Dan Mullen for Team PHI; Tom Mullen, Mark Pestana, Joel Ellsworth, Chris Miller, Greg Shell, Donna White, Charles Barritt and John Kelly for the Tehachapi High Cyber Penguins; Dave Voracek for Lancaster High's Eagle Robotics and the Garagebots team, and Larry Myers for the Antelope Valley High Robolopes. Cecilia Cordova mentors middle-school teams #2021 and 2023 from Tierra Bonita Elementary School in Lancaster in the FIRST Lego League. Several other Dryden employees also assisted with grant reviews for the NASA Robotics Alliance.