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By Eric Berger
May 10, 2013
For some 10,000 high school students it all came down to a late April weekend in the domed stadium where the St. Louis Rams play football on fall Sundays.
“We walked on the field and we were surrounded by a stadium filled with screaming robotics fans, if you can imagine such a thing,” says Scott Rippetoe, a teacher at College Park High School in The Woodlands.
Rippetoe and his team, the Texas Torque, were in Missouri to get their geek on at the FIRST Robotics world championship.
And so they did. By the end of the weekend, after a competition eliminated 397 other teams, the Torque and two allied teams from Ontario, Canada, were victorious.
“Once the final score went up I barely remember anything,” said Rippetoe. “This is the biggest event they have during the year.”
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The FIRST program, which now fills large stadiums, has come a long way since its founding in 1989 by inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen. (The acronym means For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.)
Billed as the “varsity sport for the mind,” it’s credited with inspiring many young engineers. At a recent congressional hearing, NASA administrator Charles Bolden said many of his agency’s new engineering hires have FIRST experience.
“More than half of the team in the Robotics, Auto$@#mation and Simu$@#lation Laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center are FIRST mentors and/or alumni,” said Allard Beutel, a spokesman for the agency.
J. Patric Schneider, Freelance
Senior Anneclaire Wageman works on one of the team’s practice robots, named “Velociriptar,” at College Park High School in The Woodlands.
Hard work, long hours
Each year teams of high school students build robots weighing up to 120 pounds to complete a specific task. The contest began Jan. 5, when the specifics of the 2013 competition were announced.
Essentially, this year’s contest involved devising a robot that could not only throw Frisbee discs across a playing field into small goals, but at the end of a time period the robots had to climb a pyramid for extra points.
The teams then had six weeks to build a robot before regional competitions began.
College Park teams had made it to the world championships during four of the previous five years, so the students anticipated success again.
But success does not come without hard work. Rippetoe estimates that, from early January through the championships, his students devoted 25 to 35 hours a week to building, testing and practicing with the robot. About 45 students were on this year’s Texas Torque team.
The team’s captain, Shyam Raghavan, 17, explained that the team worked from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on most afternoons, and then put in another eight or 10 hours on Saturdays.
“They’re pretty long days, but it’s fun so it’s worth it,” he said.
One final chance
The team was confident in its robot, but after several regional competitions, including in Houston, San Antonio and New Orleans, it had not won a tournament in order to qualify for the world championships.
The entry fee is $4,000 for a regional, and Rippetoe said the team was running out of funds, and there was just one last chance - in Arkansas - to qualify.
“One of our sponsors felt like we really deserved a chance and paid the reservation for the Razorback regional in the first week of April,” he said. “We went undefeated all the way through the elimination, qualifying us for the championships.”
Once in St. Louis, the 400 qualifying teams were separated into four divisions, and the top three teams in each of the four divisions combined to compete against winners of the other divisions on the Einstein field. The Torque had never made it that far.
“I can’t remember all the times I’ve watched other teams competing on the Einstein field,” said Rippetoe, a physics teacher at the high school.
For winners, ‘a blur’
In the end, The Woodlands team won.
“A lot of it is a blur,” Raghavan said. “I remember we were in a huddle looking at the score. And then the score came up, but I don’t remember much after that.”
For him and many other teammates, the fellowship of high school will soon end. This fall he’s off to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to study computer science and robotics. He’ll take a bushel of real-world experience with him.
Read more: http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Woodlands-students-build-world-championship-robot-4504197.php#ixzz2TSGloSGt