Members of Antelope Valley High School's "Robolopes" robotics team maneuver their robot "Kapu" during competition at the regional robotics meet sponsored by the FIRST organization March 28 in Las Vegas. (NASA Photo / Tom Tschida) Several high school robotics teams sponsored or supported in part by NASA Dryden Flight Research Center scored high in regional competitions sponsored by the FIRST organization March 27-28, with Lancaster High School's Eagle Robotics team being a member of the overall winning alliance team at the Colorado regional meet in Denver.
At another regional meet in Las Vegas the same weekend, Tehachapi High's "Cyber Penguins" team placed 10th overall and Antelope Valley High School's "Robolopes" squad took 18th overall out of 48 teams during competition at the Thomas and Mack Center on the University of Nevada Las Vegas campus.
In a separate FIRST Tech Challenge competition for teams not associated with a specific high school, a team mentored by NASA Dryden engineer Joe Pahle won the Inspire Award.
Lancaster and Tehachapi's teams will be joined by Pahle's Tech Challenge team in going on to compete in the national robotics championship in Atlanta in April.
The national high school robotics competition is sponsored by "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology," or FIRST. It was organized to inspire curiosity and create interest in science and mathematics among today's high school students. The competition is a unique varsity sport of the mind designed to help discover the interesting and rewarding life of engineers and researchers. They are also meant to facilitate robotics curriculum enhancements at all educational levels and develop a national clearinghouse for robotics education and career resources.
Tehachapi High School's robot dumps a load of balls into an opponents trailer during competi-tion at the Las Vegas regional robotics meet. (NASA Photo / Tom Tschida) 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 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.
The Lancaster High team and its "Tin Man" robot - named after the squeaky character in the Wizard of Oz movie - won the Imagery award at the Denver meet for the asthetics of their design and faithfulness to the their theme and team appearance.
NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center sponsorship of high school robotics teams began with the Lancaster High School team in 2000. 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.
Lancaster High School's Tin Man robot mixes it up against other teams' machines at the FIRST Regional Robotics Meet in Denver. (LnHS Eagles Robotics photo) The Tehachapi High team is mentored by former NASA Dryden employee Tom McMullen, who was named the winner of the Las Vegas meet's Woody Flowers Award that recognizes "mentors who lead, inspire and empower, using excellent communication skills...who best demonstrates excellence in teaching science, math and creative design." Tehachapi High's team also received the Autodesk Award that recognizes "excellence in student animation that clearly and creatively illustrates the spirit of the FIRST Robotics Competition."
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. The team is mentored by former NASA Dryden engineer and project manager Larry Myers.
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.
Forty-five regional competitions are held annually around the country. NASA is the largest sponsor of the national FIRST program, including support for five regional competition events and more than 280 teams.
The FIRST robotics competition program was founded in 1989 by accomplished inventor Dean Kamen to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people, their schools and their communities. Based in Manchester, New Hampshire, FIRST is a non-profit organization that designs accessible, innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills while motivating young people to pursue academic opportunities.