Thursday, Jan. 08, 2009
Friendly Robots in Lee’s Summit
Paulena Blalock, the Journal Staff
FIRST Robotics Competition
The three Lee’s Summit High Schools are participating in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition for Science and Technology) international robotic competition.
FIRST launched its 18th annual robotics competition Jan. 3.
The three high school teams held a fundraiser Jan. 3 at Lee’s Summit North High School prior to watching the international NASA broadcast that introduced the students, coaches and sponsors to what this year’s game would entail. Chris Cakes served pancakes and sausage to those who attended and the profits from the breakfast were divided three ways to support the teams to allow them to compete in the robotics competition.
“With the three school teams working on their own and together, it’s probably the most rewarding experience for the students,” said Becky Hand, a junior at Lee’s Summit North. “Unlike sports, we work together with our competitors to help everyone to compete.”
“One of the goals of FIRST is gracious professionalism,” said Tom Reynolds, a robotics coach at Lee’s Summit North. “It’s about helping each other out, including competition and your teammates,”
The FIRST Robotics Competition will reach more than 42,000 high school students with about 1,700 teams from the United States, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Germany, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Turkey and the United Kingdom, competing at 40 regional competitions worldwide.
Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway, Human Transporter, founded the FIRST Robotics Competition in 1989. According to the FIRST Web site Kamen wanted to find a way to inspire an appreciation of science, engineering and technology in teenagers. The vision for FIRST is to “transform the culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated.”
The not-for-profit public charity designs programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in the science field.
“It’s a life changing event for many students,” said Lynn Griffiths, LSN robotics coach. “After participating in the competition, many of the students decide that they want to go on and major in engineering either at The Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla or at the University of Missouri-Columbia.”
“The program is a really great experience,” said Emily Griffiths, a junior at LSHS. “It’s not just about building robots. We have writers who work with public relations. We have engineers that design and build the robots. The kids also have the opportunity to work with animation.”
The live NASA broadcast of the robotics kick-off was shown in the LSN Performing Arts Center soon after the fundraising breakfast. The broadcast from Manchester, N.H., was shown across the nation, Canada and in Israel. The broadcast, shown at 52 kickoff sites, offered workshops and allowed for the teams to learn about this year’s competition titled “Lunacy.” Teams also received their kit of parts on that day, which included motors, wheels, batteries, a control system and a mix of automation components. There were, however, no instructions.
“We were given certain parts to use for the competition,” said Jim Nazworthy, a coach at Lee’s Summit High School. “However, it’s the design and building that is customized by the students.”
The game, “Lunacy,” is a competition between three teams to get as many “moon rocks” and “super cells” into the opposing team’s trailer. A human player, known as the “payload specialist,” controls the robot via a wireless control. The robots are designed to pick up nine-inch game balls and score them in trailers hitched to their opponents’ robots for points during the two-minute- and- 15- second match. Additional points are awarded for scoring a special game ball, the Super Cell, in the opponents’ trailers during the last 20 seconds of the match.
There is a maximum of 24 semi-final teams. The top five are guaranteed to move on to the Chairman’s Award competition in Atlanta.
“Generally, the competition is so high stressed,” said Tyler Nunemaker, a senior at Lee’s Summit West. “Yet everyone works together to fix the robot, even if it is the competitor’s robot, to make sure it’s in tip-top shape for competition.”
Students have six weeks to design and build their robot, which must be completed by Feb.17. The first week, the teams brainstorm the design of the robot.
The students receive guidance from their coaches and mentors who volunteer their time to help plan, design and build the robots. Mentors come from many of the Kansas City area’s engineering companies.
“It’s not a typical mentor and student relationship that the students will have,” Nazworthy said. “The mentor has in mind what needs to be done for the robot. It’s difficult to find an immediate solution and no one knows how to solve the problem. So the kids learn from the mentors what to do when you don’t know how to fix a problem immediately.”
According to Tom Hand, robotics coach for LSN, Honeywell, an engineering company, is one of the largest providers of mentors for the robotics program in the Kansas City region. They have between 60 to 75 employees who volunteer at the high schools that compete.
“Honeywell tries to find as many teams as possible for the employees to help out,” Hand said. “On Fridays, the mentors and coaches bring in our lunch and go into a conference room and share ideas and feedback off of one another.”
“My wife is now a robot widow for the next six weeks. I’ll go to work, come home, change clothes and go back out to help build the robot,” said Red Brown, coach of the robotics team for LSHS. “We have meals furnished for the kids and volunteers each night.”
Each of the high schools has a goal to raise funds to help pay for the students to travel to their regional competitions. Some of the fundraisers the students have done, besides the pancake breakfast, were yard work during the fall season and hosting a Robotics League camp for younger students.
The schools have received much sponsorship from local business. However, materials and travel expenses add up for the students.
“The teams are all in need of corporate sponsors. This is not a cheap event,” Nazworth said. “It’s $6,000 to register for a region. Teams are able to spend up to $3,500 extra on their robots.”
“The purpose of FIRST Robotics Competition is to help kids get interested in math and science making contact info and learning to make presentations to CEOs of a major corporation,” Hand said.
For more information about the FIRST Robotics Competition, visit the Web sites, www.usfirst.org and www.kcfirst.org.”
PS: Thank you to EMMA for taking notes and being a mentor too, I forgot her on the list of thanks last post.