Paul Simon sang about 50 ways to leave your lover. After a high school robotics meet in Las Vegas April 1-2, the world now has 38 ways to move your tetrahedron.
Teams representing high schools in 38 states, including four supported by NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, Calif., wrangled their robots in a competition to see who was best at moving pyramidal frames to designated locations on the indoor playing field at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. The event is part of the annual FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) high school robotics competition.
Image left: Paul Meranian, the 'runner' for the Mojave High School Robotics team, sprints back for another plastic gamepiece. Part of the competition involved a human team member placing a plastic 'tetra' on the robot. (NASA photo by Tom Tschida)
The teams all received an identical box of parts and a set of tasks, and then used ingenuity and raw materials to make robots capable of performing the required operations. All four of the schools in the local Antelope Valley region near Edwards made it into the quarter-finals at Las Vegas. Veteran Lancaster High School and rookie Mojave High School will move on to the national robotics championship in Atlanta later this month. The other local NASA-supported schools, Highland High and Tehachapi High, gained valuable insights that will be passed from old to new team members next year.
Highland High also earned the Autodesk Visualization Award for its creative use of computer animation. (The competition encourages a wide variety of skills and explorations into fields like public affairs; more than engineering expertise is gained.) At Tehachapi, one adult mentor this year was a student from a previous team at the school.
Image right: Lancaster High School's robot Mr. Clean, #399, during competition. The three member team, in orange, can be seen behind the plexiglass shield operating the robot. (NASA photo by Tom Tschida)
One of the other mentors, retired NASA engineer Tom McMullen, said the Las Vegas competition was "an eye-opening event" for the new students on the team. When the Tehachapi robot suffered three breakages in one practice round, the team had to make quick substitutions of parts and rebound with a functional, if slower, iteration of their machine.
Mojave High School dazzled the crowd with their robot, "Waldo". It was Mojave's rookie year, but this school nestled in the aerospace crossroads of the Antelope Valley capitalized on mentoring from the Air Force Flight Test Center and Scaled Composites. Mojave earned a berth in the Atlanta finals by being named Highest Rookie Seed and Rookie All Star at Las Vegas.
Image left: NASA Dryden Flight Research Center Deputy Director Steve Schmidt and Dryden Operations engineer Adam Matuszeski discuss Lancaster High School's robot. Adam has been a mentor of the Lancaster team for several years. (NASA photo by Tom Tschida)
The teams name and humanize their mechanical creations, even if the resemblance ends at a felt-marker face drawn on a metal monster. Educators and parents in the crowded venue remarked at the energy level sustained by the high school teams. With valuable life lessons in team building, members of past robotics efforts in the Antelope Valley have moved on to study allied arts and sciences in college as a logical extension of the passion they acquired in the FIRST robotics program
Image right: All four Antelope Valley schools (Lancaster, Highland/Palmdale, Mojave, Tehachapi) gathered together at the end of the matches for this group photo. (NASA photo by Tom Tschida)
In addition to NASA Dryden's work with the four Antelope Valley schools, NASA's Ames Research Center worked with teams from Hawaii's McKinley and Waialua High Schools, and Utah's Roy High School. NASA supported 30 of the 38 teams represented at Las Vegas.
Frederick A. Johnsen
NASA Public Affairs