Lancaster High School robotics team members Will Cornell and Brad Voracek maneuver their robot, The Tin Man, during the FIRST regional robotics competition March 14 in Long Beach, Calif. (NASA photo / Tom Tschida)
› View Larger Photo The Lancaster High School robotics team, sponsored in part by NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, made it to the semi-finals of the 2009 FIRST regional robotics competition in Long Beach, Calif., March 14 before being eliminated in the final round of matches.
The regional robotics competition held at the Long Beach Convention Center drew about 50 high school robotics teams from throughout Southern California.
Each match involved three teams and their robots competing against three other teams during each game. The object of the game was to have the robots scoop up flexible balls from the floor and dump them in a trailer pulled by the opposing teams' robots. The robotics teams with the fewest number of balls in their trailers would be the winners of that match.
The three winning teams in the finals will go on to the national robotics championship in Atlanta later this spring.
The Lancaster High robotics team was one of the top scoring teams at the meet and ranked third after the qualification matches. Although not reaching the final round at the Long Beach meet, the Lancaster High team and its "Tin Man" robot – named after the squeaky character in the Wizard of Oz movie – won an Imagery award for the aesthetics of their design and faithfulness to the their theme. They were scheduled to compete again in a second regional meet in Denver in late March in an attempt to qualify for the nationals in Atlanta.
NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center has sponsored several high school robotics teams, beginning with the Lancaster High School team in 2000. 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. The teams and their robots then perform a specific task dictated by FIRST during the regional and national competitions.
NASA Dryden is again co-sponsoring teams from Lancaster and Tehachapi high schools during the 2009 robotics' season. This is Lancaster's 10th year of competing, while Tehachapi High has been involved for nine years. Dryden engineer Dave Voracek mentors the Lancaster High team; his son Brad has been a member of the team for all four years of his high school career.
The Tehachapi High team will be competing in the Las Vegas regional competition in late March.
NASA Dryden also provided a grant to the robotics team at Antelope Valley High School in Lancaster, Calif., now in its second year of competing in the FIRST competitions.
NASA Dryden also sponsors teams in two other FIRST competition categories, the Lego League for middle school students and the FIRST Tech Challenge for individual high school students.
NASA has partnered with FIRST for more than eight years 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.
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.