Text Size

Students and Robots Invade Orlando
After spending hundreds of hours helping to build Roccobot, the Kennedy Space Center-sponsored robot in the 2006 For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics Competition, Rockledge High School senior Sam Mallikarjunan had no idea he would be rubbing elbows with some of Florida's most powerful politicians.

Mallikarjunan first spoke with Gov. Jeb Bush during the opening ceremonies of the event, held at the University of Central Florida in Orlando on March 10 when he introduced the Governor's Award. The senior then served as co-master of ceremonies at a luncheon featuring Lt. Governor Toni Jennings, where he sat at her table.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush receives a trophy from students Sam Mallikarjunan and Stephanie Alphonso"It was great meeting the governor. He is a really friendly guy," Mallikarjunan said. "It was also great that he was wearing our Pink Team button. I know he supports our education system. I really enjoyed hearing and meeting the lieutenant governor, as well."

Image left: Florida Governor Jeb Bush receives the inaugural Governor's Award trophy from Sam Mallikarjunan from Rockledge High School and Stephanie Alphonso from Freedom High School in Orlando. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

In its 15th year, the FIRST Robotics Competition brings together students, mentors, teachers and parents to collaborate and share challenges after six weeks of designing and building each robot. This hands-on learning experience with state-of-the-art technology is one of the most effective ways to prepare young people for a successful future in science and technology.

Fifty-four high school teams competed in the 2006 Florida regional competition, including 40 Florida schools. The finals will be held April 27 to 29 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

This year's competition was named "Aim High" and was played by a pair of three-team alliances on a 54-foot by 26-foot field with robots that cannot exceed 60 inches high and weigh more than 120 pounds.

Members of the Pink Team prepare their robotEach alliance has three goals in which to score, including two corner goals where both robots and human players may throw or push balls and one center goal where only robots may throw balls.

Image right: Members of the "Pink Team" prepare their robot, Roccobot. The Pink Team comprises students from Rockledge High and Cocoa Beach High Schools in Brevard County, Fla., and is co-sponsored by NASA-Kennedy Space Center.
Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Next, robots acting in autonomous mode may score points. The alliance with the highest score receives 10 bonus points, then goes on defense for the next period. At the end of the second period, the alliances switch offensive and defensive roles. Before the final buzzer sounds, robots rush to their end zone and climb the ramp to the platform under the center goal.

During a luncheon for sponsors and selected students, KSC Director Jim Kennedy called the event a celebration of the Space Coast's youth and their use of science and technology.

"It is an honor for all of us at NASA to co-host this robotics competition with the University of Central Florida," Kennedy said. "This event will make a huge difference in our world in the years to come, as we train and inspire the youth participating in this robotics competition. NASA has a mission to inspire the next generation of explorers, but in our attempt to inspire the youth, you, in turn, inspire us with your efforts."

Students who compete in FIRST are eligible for close to $8 million in scholarships.

For further information on FIRST, please visit:
+ http://robotics.nasa.gov/home.php
+ http://www.usfirst.org
Jeff Stuckey
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center