Yellow inflated "doughnuts" held high, robotics competing in the FIRST Robotics Competition scoot around the court, seeking to score points by hanging the inflatable shapes on poles at each end of the court.
Members of Tehachapi High's Cyber Penguins robotics team are a study in concentration as they maneuver their robot during the San Diego regional competition in March 2011. One of the three local high school robotics teams supported in part by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center will once again be competing in the FIRST Robotics Competition international championships April 28-30 in St. Louis.
Lancaster High School's Eagle Robotics team secured an invitation to the championships by virtue of being on the winning alliance and winning a major award at their final regional tournament in Salt Lake City April 7-9.
In addition to winning 16 of their 18 matches, the Eagle Robotics team No. 399 won the Engineering Excellence Award for the design of the claw assembly on their "James Bot" robot, which judges deemed the most efficient design of the meet. The team finished the competition in second place overall out of the 31 teams competing.
Tehachapi High School's Cyber Penguins robotics team No. 585, also supported in part by NASA Dryden, was in competition at a different venue April 8-9 at the Las Vegas regional tourney. Although the team was not ranked high enough to secure an invitation to the championship meet, it won two major awards and was a finalist for a third.
"Team 585 was able to work through their technical difficulties and had a competitive showing at the Las Vegas regional," reported team advisor Danielle Evansic. "They were one of the top four finalists for the Underwriters Laboratories Safety Award, won the Autodesk Visualization Award for their 3DS Max animation and were awarded the coveted Gracious Professionalism Award.
Lancaster High Eagle Robotics "James Bot" robot mixes it up with other robots during a match at the San Diego regional robotics tourney in March 2011. "Though they did not qualify to compete at the national championships, they returned from Vegas very proud of their accomplishments," Evansic added.
The third team supported in part by NASA Dryden, Antelope Valley High School's Robolopes, reached the semi-final round at the Los Angeles regional competition in late March, the highest level the team has achieved in its four years of competition. However, its three-team alliance in that round won only one of its three matches, and was unable to advance to the next level.
This year's FIRST robotics game required each robot to hang as many inflated plastic shapes (triangles, circles, and squares) on their grids as they can during a 2-minute, 15-second match. The higher the teams hang their game pieces on their scoring grid, the more points their alliance receives. The match ends with robots deploying minibots, small electro-mechanical assemblies that are independent of the host robot, onto vertical poles. The minibots race to the top of the pole to trigger a sensor and earn additional bonus points.
Although the FIRST organization gives an award for the top-scoring robot in the competition, FIRST primarily focuses on many other aspects of the program when selecting teams for awards. Awards are given for program management, design, construction, community service, fund-raising, budgeting, scheduling and several other areas. The top award at each tournament is the Chairman's Award – won by both the Lancaster and Tehachapi high school teams in recent years – that is awarded to the team that best exemplifies the ideals of FIRST, and demonstrates the various skills and abilities for complex program management.
Tehachapi High's Cyber Penguins robot maneuvers through a sea of yellow and white inflated "doughnuts" during a match Three FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) teams mentored by Dryden engineers Joe Pahle and David Voracek that use a smaller robot – PHI Alpha, PHI Omega and the Garagebots – have already won their way to the separate FIRST Tech Challenge national championships.
Although only about a dozen of Lancaster High's 40-member robotics team will be going to the championships in St. Louis, they will have plenty of work to do. The team annually sponsors a "Robo-Prom" for all of the teams participating, a five-year-old tradition that drew more than 800 students last year.
FIRST – an acronym for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology – is a non-profit organization founded in 1989 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. Through the NASA Robotics Alliance Project, NASA provides grants for 297 teams and sponsors four regional student competitions to encourage young people to investigate careers in the sciences and engineering.