NASA and its corporate partners will support robotics education for about 200 high schools next year by sponsoring teams that will participate in a national robotics competition.
The NASA-sponsored teams will join hundreds of others in constructing robots that will compete in regional contests and a final, national competition in April 2002 at Walt Disney World's EPCOT Center, Orlando, FL. Students at the competing schools will be challenged to design a robot that will complete a specified set of tasks within rules to be outlined next week.
"Education is key to the success of our country, and this approach represents one of the most powerful ways to get students motivated," said Mark Leon, project manager of the Robotics Education Project at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. "Some of these students may go on to help NASA engage in bold new missions of exploration of our solar system. The idea here is to involve students in hands-on activities to turn them on to science and math."
The robotics project will kick off Jan. 5, 2002 at the Verizon Center in Manchester, NH, with a demonstration of the task for this year's regional and national competitions. Rules, goals and other details, such as the layout of the playing field, will be revealed during NASA TV's broadcast of the ceremony. Detailed requirements of the robotic games are carefully guarded until announced at the kickoff event.
Following the ceremony, students and their advisors will have six weeks to design and construct remote-control robots, using identical kits of material.
The annual nationwide robotics competition is conducted by the non- profit FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) organization in Manchester and sponsored by NASA and a number of corporations. Each year FIRST presents a game problem and identical parts kits to each team. The teams, composed of high school students and professional engineers and scientists, work together to construct their robots for the competition. The engineers come from NASA, private industry, other government agencies and universities.
Students also will organize marketing, public relations, fund-raising and management groups to compete for the award-winning solution. Each year's competition is different, so returning teams always have a new challenge.
NASA-sponsored teams will receive a total of about $1.5 million. Each school received a $5,000 credit toward registration fees, and about $1,000 for travel to the kickoff ceremony. The group of NASA-sponsored teams includes many from disadvantaged schools.
FIRST was started in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen to persuade American youth that engineering and technology are exciting fields. The annual robotics competition is patterned after Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Woodie Flowers' engineering design course. NASA participation in the FIRST program is provided through the NASA Office of Space Science and is directed by Dave Lavery.