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February 20, 1997

Catherine Watson
Johnson Space Center

Release: J97-004


JSC Teams Up With Students in Robot Competition

The Johnson Space Center (JSC), has teamed up with teachers and students from the local Clear Creek Independent School District (CCISD) to enter a national robotic competition.

The media is invited to attend a demonstration of the newly built robot at 1 p.m. Sunday, February 23 in JSC’s Bldg. 9.

The project, funded by an educational grant to CCISD, is made up of 34 JSC employees, eight CCISD teachers, and 37 students from Clear Brook, Clear Lake and Clear Creek high schools. In six weeks, the team conceived, designed, built and tested a robot for the For Inspirational and Recognition of Science Technology (FIRST) national competition. This team named "Integral," for the math term that means putting together a lot of pieces, will be one of 154 competing in April for more than 16 awards and scholarships during the three-day event to be held at Disney World’s Epcot Center in Florida.

The competition is tough, but the students are learning a variety of skills they can use in everyday life.

"Not only are the kids learning how math and science are used in the real world, but team, communication and strategy skills as well," says team lead Charlie Price of JSC’s Automation, Robotics and Simulation Division.

The team received a 150-plus page rule book on Jan. 11 that covered everything from the design phase to the awards banquet. The team also received a kit of parts from FIRST and was able to purchase only specific items in the building of its robot. The team was required to ship its robot by February 28.

"The whole thing can weigh only 120 pounds and must fit in a three-by-three-by-four foot crate for shipping," says Price. "All of those constraints make it a tremendous tantalizing problem."

Once the robot is built, the team must focus on how to achieve a high score. Competition will take place in a 35-foot hexagonal shaped arena with a rotating goal structure in the center. In the beginning, three teams will compete against each other to place brightly painted inner tubes on the goal structure. Scores will be determined by how the tubes are placed on the structure. The students will operate the robot from a designated area using two joysticks while another student acts as a human player helping the robot confiscate the other teams’ tubes or holding tubes for placement on the goal. Anything goes during the two-minute competition including foiling opponents’ scoring attempts. Two coaches, students or adults, will encourage the joystick operators during playing time. Teams will be eliminated until a winner is determined.

"This is the first time this type of competition will be used. In previous years, the game involved balls and a robot. The inner tube concept is new, so I think we have a great shot at winning this thing since no one has tried it before," Price says.

The most important aspects of the competition are teaching math and science and demonstrating how the project affects team members and the community. But the spirit of competition is keen.

"Make no mistake, we want to inspire these students and show them the fun and excitement of a real world time constraint engineering design project, but we are in this to win," Price says.


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