Future engineers compete at robot contest

March 14, 2008 1:06:21 PM PDT
Future rocket scientists and engineers are in training right now, at the 16th Annual competition to build robots, known as FIRST-- that stands For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

The matches started today at San Jose State University and wrap up with the finals tomorrow.

The many robotic creations are coming from young scientific minds of the future. At the 10th Annual Silicon Valley Regional Competition in San Jose, there are 48 high school-age teams of boys and girls. Teams with names like Gatorbotics, Spartonics and the Space Cookies -- that's an all girls team of 24, who come from 14 different high schools around the Bay Area.

"What I come here to do is to master programming, engineering for the robotics design," said Kaila O'Neill, Lycee France La Perouse School.

Kaila O'Neill, a senior at Lycee France La Perouse in San Francisco, says she was invited to join the team last summer after teaching at a NASA Ames exploration program in Mountain View. The 'Space Cookies' team is sponsored in part by the NASA Ames Research Center and the Girl Scouts of Northern California. Krystine Thoroughman is a NASA intern guiding the team.

"They're learning a lot of design, machining, and structural integrity. They're also learning electronics, programming," said Krystine Thoroughman, NASA Robotics Education intern.

The challenge of this sport of the mind is to build a competition robot -- each team is given six weeks to design and build a unique robot from parts in identical kits.

"Personally, I like to make stuff with metal, some other people like to code, some other people like to do electronical work," said Brad Zercoe, De La Salle High School.

The Spartonics team from De La Salle High School in Concord is one of thousands around the U.S. vying to make it to the championship next month in Atlanta. Winners will collectively receive nearly $10 million dollars in college scholarships. To score points, the completed robots must be able to race around a 54-foot track and manipulate different color trackballs. It's a challenging race, met by some incredibly innovative young minds.