NASA engineers who landed robotic explorers on Mars may’ve started out at events like the one being held today in Iowa City. The FIRST Tech Challenge Iowa Championships are pitting robot against robot in a series of competitions. The robots are the work of high school students from across Iowa. Twenty-four teams, each with five to ten students, are participating. Rebecca Whitaker, outreach coordinator at the University of Iowa’s College of Engineering, says the battling robots all started with the same kit.
The kits are from Lego and called a Mindstorm Brick, basically the brain of the robot which the students program, while the body is comprised of stainless steel Tetrix parts. The robots can be no larger than 16-inches high, wide or long. Whitaker says the robots will compete on a 12-foot-square field in a ball-tossing game called “HotShot.” The machines will need to find, pick up and accurately toss the balls.
There’s a low goal, about three inches off the ground, that’s worth a single point, while the high goal is about 24-inches off the ground and it’s worth five points. During the last 30-seconds of the game, there’s also an off-field goal, some 48-inches away, that’s worth ten-points. FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is a non-profit group founded in 1989 by Segway inventor Dean Kamen. Whitaker says the goals include: encouraging student team building skills, entrepreneurship and gracious professionalism.
Whitaker says, “We firmly believe that the only way to get students interested in the field of engineering is by giving them hands-on opportunities and a program like this is one of the better ways to really pique their interest.” The championships run from 10 AM to 6:15 PM at the Iowa Memorial Union. The event is free and open to the public. To learn more, visit: http://sites.google.com/site/ftciowa/championship