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May 9, 2002
Jonas Dino
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Phone: 650/604-5612 or 604-9000


NOTE TO EDITORS AND NEWS DIRECTORS: You are invited to attend a mini-robot ‘Botball 2002’ contest from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. PDT on Saturday, May 11, in the ballroom of the Moffett Training and Conference Center, Bldg. 3, at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. 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. Media representatives must have a valid picture ID and driver's license to gain entry at the main gate.


Programming skills and robotics engineering will again be put to the test as Botball returns for its fifth year to NASA Ames Research Center.

On May 11, hundreds of local middle and high school students from 30 teams will compete in the Silicon Valley Botball 2002 tournament hosted by NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. Unlike most robotics competitions, the intricate movements needed for the Botball competition are programmed into the mini-robots using C computer language. No remote controls are allowed.

"Future engineers get a kick out of building things. This program challenges them to build both software and hardware and create an autonomous mobile robot," said Terry Grant, NASA engineer and Botball mentor. NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe recently declared education to be a core component of the Agency’s mission, envisaging a ‘journey of learning’ to engage students and inspire the next generation of explorers.

For this year's competition, opposing robots will rely on their programming to place colored ping-pong balls into various scoring areas in the 4 foot-by 8-foot arena. Points can range from one point for balls released from 'nests' to seven points for balls placed in a basket about 15 inches above the playing field. For extreme points, robots can battle for one large foam ball that can be worth up to 30 points. Each round lasts 90 seconds, at which time each robot must automatically shut off or receive no points.

Every year, the Botball students, who range from 13 to 18 years old, receive identical kits from which to build their robots. Each kit contains hundreds of parts, including sensors, motors, battery-powered microcomputer/controllers and programming software. The students work on a strict deadline to design, build and test their robots.

"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. "Botball also challenges students to learn and use Internet research skills for the research-design project portion of the tournament."

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

Botball tournaments have gained popularity nationwide, with hundreds of teams in 11 regionals: Silicon Valley, Southern California, Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, Washington D. C., Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Massachusetts. National championships will be held from June 29 to July 2 in Norman, Okla.

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. The Robotics Education Project spearheads robotics education for NASA and supports other student robotic programs such as FIRST Robotics and FIRST Lego league.

Additional information about the Botball contest is on the Internet on the KISS Web site:

and on the NASA Ames Web site at:




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