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2011 FIRST Robotics Competition Kicks Off
After months of speculation, high school FIRST Robotics teams across the world learned on Saturday Jan. 8 what the engineering challenge for the 2011 competition would entail.

At the Virginia Air & Space Center in Hampton, Va., representatives from 15 teams across southeast Virginia, some associated with NASA Langley, arrived to register their teams, watch the live broadcast announcing the challenge and pick up their kits full of robotic parts. Members of Team 122 -- the NASA Knights -- of New Horizons Regional Education Center in Hampton, waited eagerly to learn what they would spend the next six weeks of their lives building and programming.

Teams across the world only received two hints: the FIRST logo and an image of Little Eva.

Nick McMahon, a mentor and former member of the NASA Knights, thought the game might include different shaped robots since the FIRST logo is made up of a circle, triangle and square. He wasn't sure how Little Eva fit in.

2011 NASA Knights FIRST Robotics Competition team

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The 2011 NASA Knights FIRST Robotics Competition team from the New Horizons Regional Education Center in Hampton, Va.

McMahon was close, but not quite right. This year's FIRST Robotics challenge and 20th engineering game is called LOGO Motion (Little Eva was famous for her 1962 hit "Loco-Motion"). LOGO Motion involves building a robot and mini-bot that can move and climb as well as position inflatable tubes and symbols on pegs, in order to make up the FIRST logo. The higher an inflatable logo letter or tube is placed, the more points the team scores. At the end of the game, the main robot must deploy a mini-bot that will climb to the top of a nine-foot pole in under 10 seconds. The first mini-bot to the top gets the most points.

Following the "big reveal," the NASA Knights took their suitcases of robotic parts -- including batteries, bolts and cables -- back to their home turf to share with the rest of the team's 53 members.

Cody Blakiewicz, a senior at Denbigh High School in Newport News, said this year's game differs greatly from the previous year, where teams built robots that kicked balls into goals, much like soccer.

Blakiewicz said he enjoys FIRST Robotics because he likes working with his hands and likes the camaraderie of his teammates.

"It's great working in a team and also improving my trade and leadership skills," he said.

When asked what the biggest challenge of FIRST Robotics is, Blakiewicz answered quickly.

The semi-official hat of the 2011 NASA Knights

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The 2011 NASA Knights 'semi-official' hat. Each year, the team members design a hat for the competition.

"The six-week time frame," he said. "By far."

The NASA Knights will work every day after school and on weekends until Feb. 21 to build and program their robots in preparation for the Virginia regional tournament, April 7-9, and then hopefully advance to the FIRST Championships, April 27-30, in St. Louis. To help the students reach their goals, NASA mentors oversee fabrication, parents provide support and lunches, and Joanne Talmage, a Robotics, Electronics and Fiber Optics instructor at New Horizons, leads the team.

Talmage is optimistic about the Knights' ability to finish the robots in time, noting that her students' enthusiasm is off the charts.

"They are texting, calling on the cell phones and Facebooking each other about the rules; they are using today's technology to be productive," Talmage said.

"We are excited about this year's build," she continued. "We feel that the challenges are reachable."

To see the animation of this year's game, visit:


To visit the NASA Knights online, visit:



Amy Johnson
NASA Langley Research Center