Students Hone Engineering Skills in Robotics

Dec 09, 2009 by Karen Hanner
Students Hone Engineering Skills in Robotics
Wendy Holforty, outreach chair of the Women’s Influence Network at NASA's Ames Research Center, high fives students at the competition. Image Credit: Girl Scouts of Northern California / Vera Dadok

( -- Robots have fascinated future engineers for generations. Recently, a group of young students had an opportunity to design and build their own robots using LEGOs, the popular plastic pieces used to assemble models of everything from trains to airplanes, at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Hosted by NASA Ames, in conjunction with the Girl Scouts of Northern California, the first annual FIRST LEGO League (FLL) tournament drew 139 ages nine to 14.

For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), an organization dedicated to inspiring students in science, technology, engineering and math, has collaborated with NASA for robotics competitions since 1998. This year was the first time NASA Ames and the Girl Scouts partnered to produce a LEGO competition.

During the tournament, students were introduced to engineering challenges by building LEGO-based robots to complete tasks in a competition. Every year, the theme of the tournament changes. This year's theme, titled "Smart Move," focused on transportation alternatives. Constructing the robot with LEGOs allows students to practice hands-on critical thinking and applying real-world math and science concepts to help solve engineering challenges.

"The kids are just awesome and having so much fun," said Mark León, project manager of the NASA Robotics Alliance Project at NASA Ames. León was the master of ceremonies during the rounds of the competition, sporting his signature blue hair that he dyes for every robotics competition.

Awards were presented in four equally weighted areas: robot performance, robot design, teamwork and project. The Xbots team from San Jose won first place in robot performance. The Pranksterbots team from Fremont, Calif. won first place in robot design. The Creative Movers team from Sunnyvale, Calif. won first place in "Smart Move Project," on how their team used creative thinking to solve the problem of transportation. The Ductbotz team from Los Altos, Calif. won first place in teamwork.

The highest award achieved, the Champions award, is given to the team strongest in all four areas. This year that award was won by 4EverGreen, a team from Cupertino, Calif.

Shoba Krishnan, a mentor from the 4EverGreen team, said that two of the girls from the team plan on earning their Girl Scout Silver Award by planning workshops on programming and robot design for the Girl Scout organization. "This coming summer they will be running these programs and starting to build a new team that can continue their efforts for the 2010 challenge," said Krishnan.

The Golden Surfers, a team from East Palo Alto, Calif. won the judge's award, which is an award given by the judges to recognize teams that are worthy of recognition but didn't win one of the other awards.

Ellin Klor, coach for the Golden Surfers, said "Going to college is far from a given in these children's lives but we really feel that we have hooked a couple of the kids into a passion for engineering in a real way."

Because the competition was a collaboration with the Girl Scouts, there were more girls at this competition than are typically at one of the FIRST robotics competitions. More than half of the teams were comprised entirely of girls. Nine teams from this tournament received invitations to participate in regional FIRST LEGO League tournaments. These teams advanced based on overall performance equally weighted in the four award areas.

Wendy Holforty, outreach chair of the Women’s Influence Network at NASA Ames, was the master of ceremonies for the opening and closing ceremonies. “It was truly a treat to see the enthusiasm and watch the teamwork and gracious professionalism at play in the tournament. These kids are learning valuable life lessons.”

Provided by JPL/NASA (news : web)

Explore further: Ig Nobel winner: Using pork to stop nosebleeds

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Students Win Robotics Basketball Tournament

Mar 29, 2006

It may not be the final four, but it's definitely an exciting time for some Southern California high school students who won a regional game of robotics basketball. Now they're heading to the finals in the ...

Robotic March madness to debut at FIRST competition

Feb 25, 2005

Approximately 40 robots built by teams of high school students throughout the United States will compete head-to-head at the inaugural FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Boilermaker Regional ...

Teams Win at NASA National Lunar Robotics Competition

Oct 19, 2009

( -- Nineteen teams pushed their robot competitors to the limit, and three teams claimed a total of $750,000 in NASA prizes at this year's Regolith Excavation Challenge on Oct. 18. This is the ...

Robots compete this week at Purdue

Mar 13, 2006

Purdue University says it will host a group of college and high school students this week in a competition of robotic inventions.

UBC engineering students unveil moon dust-shoveling robot

Oct 12, 2009

( -- A robot designed by UBC students will be shoveling moon dust at an international robotics competition next week, vying for a $500,000 prize and the opportunity to contribute to NASA's future space exploration ...

Recommended for you

Ig Nobel winner: Using pork to stop nosebleeds

Sep 19, 2014

There's some truth to the effectiveness of folk remedies and old wives' tales when it comes to serious medical issues, according to findings by a team from Detroit Medical Center.

History books spark latest Texas classroom battle

Sep 16, 2014

As Texas mulls new history textbooks for its 5-plus million public school students, some academics are decrying lessons they say exaggerate the influence of Christian values on America's Founding Fathers.

Flatow, 'Science Friday' settle claims over grant

Sep 16, 2014

Federal prosecutors say radio host Ira Flatow and his "Science Friday" show that airs on many National Public Radio stations have settled civil claims that they misused money from a nearly $1 million federal ...

User comments : 0