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Putting Teamwork 'FIRST'
Zach Martin squatted and intensely inspected Rocco-bot, a robot designed by Kennedy Space Center's "Pink" team. It seemed the neon pink robot's tower, a crane-like "arm" that moves in all directions, would prematurely lock because of a problem with its servo motor.

Participants in the FIRST robotics competition cheer on their entry. The Rockledge, Florida high school student worried the malfunction might affect his team's chances of winning in this year's For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics competition. The event took place March 12 at the University of Central Florida Arena in Orlando.

Image to right: The "Pink" team roots on their long-armed robot, built with the help of KSC engineers. Credit: NASA.

Even while surrounded by a hectic environment that resembles a combination of a NASCAR pit and a scene from the TV show "Robot Wars," Zach wasn't fazed. He and his teammates, decked head to toe in pink, calmly fixed the problem.

Participants in the FIRST robotics competition cheer on their entry. Unlike "Robot Wars," this event's main purpose is not to decide who has the fiercest, wire-mangling robot; it's about teamwork and reliance. FIRST is a multinational competition that teams professionals and young people to solve an engineering design problem in an atmosphere similar to a professional sporting event. Teams come from Canada, Brazil, Great Britain and almost every U.S. state. The 2004 Central Florida FIRST Robotics Regional competition at UCF hosted 41 teams.

Image to left: Team "Voltage" encourages their entry, as it competes in a ball-juggling robotic free-for-all. Credit: NASA.

Universities, corporations, businesses and individuals provide scholarships to participants. This year, nearly 180 merit-based scholarship opportunities amounting to more than $3.8 million are available to eligible FIRST high school participants.

Andy Bradley, a NASA control systems engineer who mentors the "Pink" KSC team of Cocoa Beach and Rockledge High School students, coached the group through the servo motor glitch as members prepared for a first round match.

Participants in the FIRST robotics competition speak to KSC Director Jim Kennedy. "We've got a case of electrical controls 101," Bradley said. "We had a signal wire that was interfering with a servo motor and that wire was running near another electrical motor. This caused our servo motor to move, which we didn't want to happen. That servo is also what locks our tower into place. But now we're re-routing the wires, which is a simple fix but one of those gremlins that sometimes tries to get you."

Image to right: KSC Center Director James Kennedy and the "Pink" team discuss strategy before a match. Credit: NASA.

Major sponsors of the 2004 FIRST Florida Regional were treated to a luncheon featuring keynote speakers Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and KSC Director Jim Kennedy, who encouraged the audience to inspire the students to continue their academic studies.

Participants in the FIRST robotics competition cheer on their entry. "This country needs a way, such as FIRST, to inspire the youth to want to continue their education," said Kennedy. "You can see the spark in these kids' eyes and they are touched by this competition. All of the things that have touched me today, such as the excitement of the competition, the innovative designs, the spirit and vitality, that's all impressive. But the most impressive thing is when I learned that when they have free time, they go help the competition. It's all about teamwork and reliance."

Image to left: Robot 179 does its best to place purple rubber balls inside the goal at the FIRST competition. Credit: NASA.

For information about FIRST, visit
Jeff Stuckey and Matthew Cavagnaro, KSC Staff Writers
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center