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Robotics competition encourages interest in science, technology (St Louis Globe Dem. March 20, 2010)


St Louis Globe Democrat
Saturday, March 20, 2010
It is the “NCAA Tournament” of Robotics
Original Article

Time was growing short Saturday morning on the floor of the Chaifetz Arena and it was time to get Pele ready for his soccer match.

“Pele” wasn’t the Brazilian soccer player but a small cart-sized robot with four wheels and a small retractable arm that allows it to “kick” a ball.

But to the University City High School “Robo-Lions,” it could have been a World Cup match.

They were participating for the first time in the St. Louis Regional for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics competition this weekend at the arena on the St. Louis University campus.

“We’re rookies,” said Grace Deitzler, a freshman at the high school.

The ninth-annual competition featured more than 500 high school students competing against other schools using robots each team has built. Part engineering event, part competition, part pep rally—the atmosphere is loud and raucous as robots are placed in a small playing rink and are operated by remote control.

During the competition, robots pick up soccer balls and place them in goals if they can overcome uneven surfaces, as well as other tasks. Teams are judged on their design, team spirit and good sportsmanship.

The goal is to encourage and foster student’s interest in science and technology. “It’s really rewarding to see all this work turn into something,” Deitzler said.

Students receive a robot kit and have six weeks to build it and get it ready for competition. David Sarber, a volunteer mentor and parent working with the team, said the competition does spur student’s interest in technology. “They find out that it’s actually easier than they thought.” Sarber said.

Barber said the students opened the box with the robot parts on Jan. 9. “Now they can tell you what everything on this guy does,” he said. “They were looking at this and saying how are we going to make a robot out of this stuff.”

Susie Mathieu, a member of the FIRST national board, said the competition this year at St. Louis University features students from 37 high schools in the St. Louis area and teams from schools in Missouri, Minnesota, Illinois, Kansas, Florida, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas.

In the competition on Saturday, the Metool Brigade team from O’Fallon Township High School finished on the first place winning alliance joining teams from Camdenton, Missouri and Jackson, Tennessee as the St. Louis Regional winners. They will travel to Atlanta, Georgia April 15-17 to participate in the FIRST Robotics national finals.

In second place was an alliance including the ROBOREBELS from St. Louis Priory High School, Rockwood Robotics from the Rockwood School District in St. Louis County and S.W.A.T. from Smithville, Missouri.

A FIRST championship will be held at America’s Center and the Edward Jones Dome in the last week in April over the next three years.

FIRST was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway human transporter and the insulin pump used by diabetics among many inventions. Kamen was on hand Saturday morning at the opening of the competition.

Kamen was touring the “pit” where teams prepared their robots–stopping to autograph T-shirts and talk to students. More than 45,000 high school students in 48 states and ll countries now participate in the FIRST program.

Kamen said his goal is to have robotics programs in all schools throughout the country. The nation’s schools need programs that teach an appreciation of science and technology or its schools “face a catastrophe.”

Meanwhile, student “pit bosses” and crews shuttled back and forth, working to troubleshoot technical snafus. Students also sat in the stands above the pit, cheering them on. Students dressed as school mascots—bears, knights, wolves, etc. also were there. “The model is the NCAA tournament,” Mathieu said, without the harsh overview of a state high school athletic association.

And like basketball tournaments everywhere, some students and teams dressed for the occasion.

Members of the Cinco Ranch High School “CRyptonite” team from Katy, Texas, wore green caps and dyed their hair a chartreuse green.

“They did it to inspire the team,” said Steven Fish, a teacher at the school.

April 19th, 2010
Topic: FIRST News, Robotics News Tags: None

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