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May the Best 'Bot Win

Published by Matt on Tue Sep 29, 2009 12:07 pm via: source
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NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., will sponsor four enterprising high school teams — three from North Alabama and one from Illinois — that will design and build functioning robots to compete in the 17th annual FIRST Robotics Competition.

The goal of the national organization For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST, is to inspire young people to pursue technology-related careers by challenging them to solve complex, engineering-based problems in a competitive environment. FIRST hosts the robotics competition.

First Robotics Competition

First Robotics Competition

Students must design, build and operate robots capable of executing specific tasks — and each annual competition includes a new, unique challenge. Mentors from NASA, local businesses and nearby colleges and universities aid the teams.

For the 2009-2010 competition, the Marshall Center will sponsor a rookie FIRST Robotics team from Virgil I. Grissom High School in Huntsville and three returning teams: joint entrants Decatur High School and Austin High School in Decatur, Ala.; Walker County Center of Technology in Jasper, Ala.; and Oregon Community School District in Oregon, Ill.

The contest aligns with NASA’s education goals, and NASA field centers and the agency’s industry partners sponsored more than 200 teams last year alone.

“FIRST Robotics is the kind of practical, hands-on experience that NASA strives to offer in its own education initiatives — complementing and enlivening traditional classroom learning in ways that open up endless new possibilities in young minds,” said Tammy Rowan, manager of the Marshall Center’s Academic Affairs Office. “Programs such as FIRST make technical study fun and engaging. It demonstrates the value of pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — the cornerstone of NASA’s success.”

School teams may submit proposals to NASA to compete for FIRST Robotics grant money and assistance for up to three consecutive years. That sustained partnership helps teams grow in confidence and engineering savvy as they progress each year with their robot designs and construction.

This fall, teams are recruiting new members, raising funds to support their work and training themselves to use their design and construction tools to build complex mechanical and electrical subsystems necessary to power their robots. They will be given the 2010 design challenge next January, when NASA representatives will join FIRST founder Dean Kamen and team sponsors for a kickoff event at FIRST headquarters in Manchester, N.H. The kickoff will be broadcast on NASA Television. Teams must present their robots to FIRST judges for an initial assessment six weeks later. In March, they will begin regional competitions, culminating in the national championship in Atlanta in April.

During the 2008-2009 contest, more than 42,000 students on 1,680 teams took part in regional challenges in 11 countries around the world. That competition concluded last April, when some 20,000 spectators converged on the Georgia Dome in Atlanta to watch the 2009 FIRST championship finals.

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