Proving their robots have what it takes to storm a castle, an alliance of three high schools won the Los Angeles regional FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition on March 12.
Sixty-six teams from Southern California, Hawaii, Nevada and Chile competed in the event on March 11 and 12 at the Long Beach Convention Center. The winning alliance was Team 1197 (Torrance, California-area high schools), Team 987 (Cimarron-Memorial High School of Las Vegas, Nevada) and Team 5012 (Palmdale Aerospace Academy of Palmdale, California).
This year's challenge, "FIRST Stronghold," involved an intricate setup of towers, ramparts, moats and other obstacles. JPL sponsored eight schools in their quest for robotic dominance.
In each match, two alliances of three robots each competed. To score points, each alliance needed to breach their opponents' defenses, weaken their tower with "boulders" (balls) and capture the tower. During the final 20 seconds of the match, robots could surround and scale the opposing tower to capture it. With a countdown of "3, 2, 1, charge!" the teams were off.
One team that awed the audience with its robot's ability to climb a tower was the Beach Bots, team 330, which received support from JPL. Troy Dietz, a freshman at Da Vinci Science, Hawthorne, California, and member of this team, said the Beach Bots have "a lot of proven designs we're able to reuse year after year," which "makes for a very powerful robot."
The Beach Bots advanced with an alliance of two other schools all the way to the last round. In final minutes of the deciding match, the Beach Bots' robot turned upside down, but was able to pull itself back up. Though their alliance was defeated in the end, the Beach Bots won the competition's Industrial Design Award.
The Circuit Breakers, team 696, which also had JPL support, came with two spirited mascots: Clark Magnet High School juniors Nanor Asadourian and Anna Parsamyan were dressed in puffy green and pink sumo wrestler costumes, respectively, to highlight the school's colors. The two young women have other substantial roles on the team: Asadourian is a machinist and Parsamyan handles grant proposals, essays and other business tasks.
Each year's FIRST challenge is different. Once the premise of the competition is announced, students are given six weeks to design, build, program and test their robots to meet the new challenges. Adult mentors help the students in the process.
Rob Steele, a software engineer specializing in robotics at JPL, has been a mentor for FIRST teams since 1997. "You do it because you enjoy it and enjoy working with kids," he said.
For some students, FIRST experiences change their career ambitions. Jessica Cameron, a senior at San Marino High School, the engineering president for JPL-sponsored Titanium Robotoics (team 1160), once thought she wanted to work in animation, but instead applied to colleges as an aerospace engineering major. Asadourian from the Circuit Breakers said she has wanted to be a math teacher for a long time, but, because of FIRST, she is also considering engineering. Parsamyan wants to be a criminal lawyer, but sees the skills she gains from FIRST as relevant for that career, too.
Regional competition winners will go to the 2016 FIRST Championship in St. Louis, Missouri, from April 27 to 30.
More information and a short video about FIRST are at:
More information on NASA's Robotics Alliance Project is at:
News Media ContactElizabeth Landau
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA