Six weeks is hardly long enough to learn the basics of robotics, let alone to build a working robot. However, the robotics team from Lamar High School has done just that. Lamar's award-winning inaugural robotics team known as “DiscoBots” recently competed in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics Competition. Although a rookie team this year, the Lamar "DiscoBots" made it to the semi-final round of competition at the Lone Star Regional competition in Katy, Texas. The Lamar “DiscoBots” also won the Judge's Award and the Best Website Award, defeating many veteran teams for these honors. FIRST launched its seventeenth FIRST Robotics Competition season on January 5, 2008. The FIRST Robotics Competition is an annual competition that helps students discover the rewards and excitement of science, engineering, and technology. Over 37,500 high-school students on more than 1,500 teams from Brazil, Canada, Chile, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, the U.K., and every state in the U.S. participated in this year's competition.
Students on the team go beyond the typical public education as they get a crash course in engineering, design, and collaboration. "The late nights and working Saturdays are worth it in the end", says Mark Livengood, speaking of the serious time commitment necessary for success. "We've had to make sacrifices and compromises, and have experienced more than our share of frustration, but we've survived", adds student Ellen Farber.
The Lamar “DiscoBots” team is comprised of students and teachers from Lamar High School as well as volunteer engineers from Rice University and Texas Instruments. Through this experience, they have formed a successful and collaborative working relationship. Mentors assist students in the design and creation of the robot, thus teaching the students the engineering process. With limited time, the fast-paced learning cycle prepares the students to take on real world scenarios with tight budgets. Robotics brings together many different cultures, encouraging them to participate in robotics. One of the most-reached groups has been girls. "Most of the critical parts on the robot are done by the girls on the team," says Texas Instrument mentor Christina Lam. "The team has been very supportive and has encouraged our involvement," agrees Keila Fong, a junior and a leading member of the team responsible for driving the robot and wiring its electronics, "I really value my experience with robotics. Besides teaching me the importance of cooperation and dedication, FIRST has reinforced my interest in engineering and its applications."
FIRST is an organization dedicated to inspiring interest in science, technology, and engineering through robotics competitions for students. Teams of students, with the help of mentors, build a robot during a six-week build season to compete in a specified "game". This year's competition required robots to race around a track while manipulating 40" diameter inflated balls. Alliances of three robots scored points by completing laps, herding the ball around the track, and hurdling the balls over 6.5' overpasses during a 2 minute period. In addition to this period in which the robots are remotely controlled by student drivers, there is an autonomous period in which robots must operate independently according to previously written programs. While the FIRST competition emphasizes science, technology, and engineering through robot building and competition, there is also an emphasis on outreach and inspiration. The Lamar robotics team has been working with Lanier Middle School to establish interest and to build a robotics program, and hopes to do similar things at numerous other schools.
Since its beginning, FIRST has had a positive impact on students and academic communities. Research has shown that FIRST has significantly improved students' attitudes about math and science and has fostered a culture of teamwork, leadership, and self-confidence . FIRST Robotics participants are eligible to apply for over $9.5 million in scholarships from leading universities, colleges, and companies. In addition, interest in internship and employment opportunities with sponsoring companies has increased.
As another facet of their community involvement, the team is also seeking support from local businesses and individuals. Through doing this, they hope to spread the message of FIRST and encourage the community to get involved. Community support, especially financial, is an integral part of the team's mission. It provides the means with which to achieve their goals -- without support, they would not exist. Most importantly, the team is committed to Lamar and wants to inspire an interest in science and technology in their school’s community. The team always welcomes interest -- anyone can be a part of the team, regardless of area of talent! To get involved, simply visit their meetings on Wednesdays after school at Lamar High School in W206.
For information, visit Lamar Robotics' website at discobots.org