Two teams mentored by NASA centers were in the winning alliance at the national FIRST ("For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology") Championship in St. Louis on April 30. They joined a third team to take the first-place honor at this international robotics competition, which attracted about 20,000 youth participants from 39 countries.
FIRST also awarded its Founders Award to NASA for exceptional service in efforts to engage students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden accepted the award on behalf of the agency.
Each year's FIRST challenge is different. This year's challenge, "FIRST Stronghold," involved an intricate setup of towers, ramparts, moats and other obstacles in a medieval-themed tournament. To score points, each alliance had to direct their robots to overcome defensive obstacles, pick up "boulders" (foam balls) and throw them into the opponent's tower. Robots could also surround and scale the opposing tower to capture it, earning more points. In each match, two alliances of three teams each compete.
One of the winning teams, the "Beach Bots" (Team 330), had support from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Founded in 1997 with JPL as a sponsor, the team is affiliated with Hope Chapel Academy in Hermosa Beach, California. The team bought its own milling equipment to make parts for the competitions, and several students have learned machine shop skills.
The team was a finalist in the Los Angeles Regional Competition in Long Beach and the Ventura Regional Competition, both held in March in California. Rob Steele, a software engineer specializing in robotics at JPL, has been a mentor for FIRST teams since the team's inception.
At the world championship in St. Louis, the Beach Bots' robot fell over twice during one of the matches. But the student drive team had practiced righting the robot by using its arm to get back up, and demonstrated that skill adeptly as they continued playing to win.
"Cleveland's Team," also known as Team 120, was also part of the winning alliance. Their primary sponsor has been NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland since the team was founded in 1995. The team began at East Technical High School, but merged with another FIRST team (number 1270), which included students from all Cleveland municipal high schools. Today, the combination of local Cleveland high school students is known as the Youth Technology Academy (YTA) Team 120.
Students on Cleveland's Team spend 16 hours each week, working on their robot and attending courses at Cuyahoga Community College - Metropolitan Campus. They earn college credits for machining and programming while they are building their robot.
"I'm in awe of how far they have come in their understanding of physics and engineering, and most importantly, in how to work with their peers from all over the country to produce a winning alliance," said Lawrence Oberle, instrumentation engineer at Glenn Research Center. Oberle has been with the team for 19 years, including 18 years as lead mentor.
The NASA-mentored teams were joined by Roboteers, Team 2481, hailing from Tremont, Illinois.
In the finals, it was down to the wire: in a best-of-three scenario, the alliances tied. To determine the winner, the judges counted up penalty points from each side. The Beach Bots-Cleveland's Team-Roboteers alliance came out ahead.
"It was a nail-biter," Steele said. "The final round was one of the closest matches I've seen. The kids have done a really great job."
News Media ContactElizabeth Landau
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA