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FIRST Regional Robotics Games a Learning Experience
March 18, 2011

Members of the three NASA Dryden-supported high school robotics teamsCompeting teams, including Lancaster High School's Eagle Robotics (in orange shirts) mix it up during a match at the FIRST Robotics regional games March 12 in San Diego. NASA Dryden supports three local high school robotics teams – Lancaster, Tehachapi and Antelope Valley – and several other non-school teams in the annual competitions. (NASA photo / Tom Tschida)

Lancaster High's Lancaster High's "James Bot" robot hangs the last of three inflatable shapes to form the FIRST logo during a match. Three high school robotics teams sponsored or supported in part by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center's Office of Education participated in the FIRST organization's regional robotics games in San Diego the second weekend of March. At least two of the teams learned that initial designs don't always achieve the desired performance when their robots were tested - and occasionally failed - in the crucible of competition.

The three teams - Lancaster High School's Eagle Robotics, Antelope Valley High School's Antelopes and Tehachapi High School's Cyber Penguins – will have the chance to try again in a second round of regional contests in coming weeks. Antelope Valley and Lancaster teams will compete in the Los Angeles regional games in Long Beach March 25-26, while Tehachapi High's team is entered in the Las Vegas regional April 1-2.

According to Lancaster High School Eagle Robotics team members Jeremy Germita and Lauren Parke, their team won 11 of its 15 matches, resulting in their being named regional finalists and part of the seventh-seeded three-team alliance. However, in their last match of the competition, their robot, nicknamed "James Bot," sustained several mechanical failures, one after another.

Students make repairs to the team's robot.Lancaster High Eagle Robotics students Radi Maida and Jeremy Germita along with lead advisor Kevin Spoelstra make repairs to the team's robot. "The loss in the final match was caused by several subsystems failing - the left side drive wheels' tread broke off, the mini-bot did not deploy, and, most spectacularly, the arm broke off. Smoke poured from James Bot as he limped across the field," they reported. "In the end, we learned about our errors and plan to be back stronger than ever, at the Los Angeles Regional in Long Beach."

Tehachapi High's Cyber Penguins had a similar learning experience, according to the team's advisor, Danielle Evansic.

"Our innovative round design was complemented by the light fiberglass frame the students designed and fabricated during the build season," she reported. "Unfortunately, programming and electrical issues kept the robot from performing up to snuff, and once those were addressed, we discovered that the gearing was under-designed.

Tehachapi Cyber Penguins' robot takes a tumble during competition.The oopps factor - Tehachapi Cyber Penguins' robot takes a tumble during competition. "The robot did not meet expectations at the San Diego regional, but students learned a valuable lesson about build quality and the need to be able to rapidly diagnose and adapt to problems in the field," Evansic wrote. "We've ordered replacement gears, the students have the robot ready to receive those gears, and we will hit the ground rolling as soon as we get to our next competition in Las Vegas.

"While we didn't have a good showing as a competitive robot in San Diego, we did have a great experience and the students learned a lot from it," she added.

FIRST is a non-profit organization founded in 1989 to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people, their schools and communities. The robotics program was developed to inspire curiosity and create interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics among high school students. Through the NASA Robotics Alliance Project, NASA provides grants for 297 teams and sponsors four regional student competitions to encourage young people to investigate careers in the sciences and engineering.

Antelope Valley High Antelopes team members Marion Garcia-Hernandez, Larry Lormand, and Myrle McLernon Jr.Antelope Valley High Antelopes team members Marion Garcia-Hernandez, Larry Lormand, and Myrle McLernon Jr. are a study in concentration as they control their robot during a match.

NASA photos by Tom Tschida

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