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April 26, 2001

Jonas Dino

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

Phone: 650/604-5612 or 604-9000


NOTE TO EDITORS AND NEWS DIRECTORS: You are invited to attend a Saturday April 28th mini-robot ‘Botball 2001’ contest from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. PDT in the ballroom of the Moffett Training and Conference Center, Bldg. 3, at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. To get to Ames, take the Moffett Field exit off Highway 101, and drive east to the main gate of Moffett Federal Airfield to obtain directions to the contest location. Media representatives may arrive early, if they wish. U.S. media representatives who are U.S. citizens or who have green cards must have valid press pass credentials with picture ID in order to enter Ames.


Student teams are set to renew their annual battle for mini-robot supremacy as they prepare to square off in a test of sensors and programming skills.

On April 28, hundreds of students from 37 local high school teams and their mini-robots will compete in the ‘Silicon Valley Botball 2001’ tournament hosted by NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. Botball tournaments have gained popularity nationwide, with hundreds of teams in eight other regions: Southern California, Texas, Oklahoma, Washington D. C., Florida, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Massachusetts. The Silicon Valley regional has grown 30 percent from the previous year.

"There's a great need to turn on students to today's technology, and I see Botball as satisfying that need," said Terry Grant, an engineer at NASA Ames who volunteered to help students and teachers. "The competition is new and different every year. Students like the challenge of solving a real problem where the teacher doesn’t have the answer, and they really like to see something that they have built ‘come to life’ according to a plan they created."

During each contest, opposing robots in a 4 foot-by 8-foot arena will rely only on their sensors and programming to place colored ping-pong balls and tubes in various scoring positions. Remote controls are not allowed. Balls placed on the playing surface earn 1 point unless they are placed in the 'nest,' where the points double. Point multipliers are given if the robot is able to move the nest to its side of the playing field or the robot gets into the nest. Substantial points are awarded if a robot can place a tube on a post. Each round lasts 90 seconds.

Each team receives a kit from which students build their robot. Each kit contains hundreds of parts, including various sensors, motors, battery-powered microcomputer/controllers and programming software. Robots are programmed using C computer language.

According to organizers, as the students build their robots, they are fostering interest and learning valuable skills in scientific reasoning, mathematics, physics and design. Because of the short time from receiving their kits to the regional tournaments, students learn time management. "The students learn how to work under pressure as a team because they are given only six weeks to prepare for the contest." Grant said. As an added twist, students are encouraged to use the Internet to develop their designs. "Botball also challenges students to learn and use Internet research skills for the research-design project portion of the tournament," Grant said.

The hands-on learning experience would not be complete without the teachers and the mentors from sponsoring organizations. To support the students, teachers are given a 3-day, hands-on workshop about how to use robotic equipment, as well as how to incorporate robotic principles in their daily curricula. Schools keep the equipment for later use. Volunteer mentors from NASA, industry and educational institutions are involved during the design and testing phases to provide technical support when needed.

The Botball concept was developed by the non-profit KISS Institute for Practical Robotics (KIPR) based in Norman, OK. KIPR is a community-based organization that provides improved learning and skills development through applied technology. Spearheaded by the Robotics Education Program that supports other student robotic projects such as FIRST Robotics and FIRST Lego leagues, NASA Ames is in the fourth year of sponsoring and hosting the Silicon Valley Botball Regional.

The Botball National Championship will be held Aug. 8, 2001 in Seattle to coincide with the American Association for Artificial Intelligence conference.

Additional information about the Botball contest is on the Internet on the KISS web site, and at on the Ames web site.




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