Stillwater News Press

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January 10, 2014

Robotics competition teaches students to overcome setbacks

STILLWATER, Okla. — When a Raytheon engineer was working on wartime magnetron tubes for radar defense, he failed but discovered a candy bar melted in his pocket, leading to the invention of the microwave, an appliance many can’t imagine living without today.

When a soap manufacturer thought he’d discovered a fantastic wallpaper cleaner, the goop was repurposed for the wildly popular Play-Doh, that strange, brightly colored clay children grow up molding and poking.

When an eccentric physicist was researching the properties of cathode ray tubes, he noted fluorescent papers in his lab were illuminated even though his machine had an opaque cover, leading to X-ray technology.

Failures turning into discoveries that changed the world were cheered at the 2014 FIRST Robotics Competition Kickoff at the Oklahoma State University Wes Watkins Center, where more than 800 students and mentors were encouraged to fail and always “try, try again,” said Harold Holley, area FIRST coordinator.

“We want them to learn how to fail and move on,” Holley said.

The kickoff of a new robotics competition season featured a game called Aerial Assist. The Stillwater group joined nearly 70,000 high school students on more than 2,700 teams in 92 cities around the globe viewing a live NASA-TV broadcast at OSU.

“The students who participate in the FIRST Robotics Competition are not only building robots, they are building character, self-respect and relationships with their peers,” said Dean Kamen, president of DEKA Research & Development and FIRST Founder. “Winning the game is fun, but the importance of FIRST is that you’ll get much more out of it than you put in, and it’s going to change the rest of your life.”

The FIRST Robotics Competition strives to develop 21st century thinkers, workers and people who will be able to lead in the innovation economy. Holley said the global economy is going to depend on how well students develop as the future problem solvers we need.

The 2014 game, Aerial Assist, is played by two alliances of three teams each. Alliances compete by trying to score as many balls in goals as possible during a two-minute and 30-second match. Additional points are earned by robots working together to score goals, and throwing and catching balls over a truss suspended just over five feet above the floor as they move the ball down the field.

At the kickoff, FRC teams were shown the Aerial Assist playing field and received a kit of parts made up of motors, batteries, a control system, a PC and a mix of automation components — and only limited instructions. Students have six weeks to design, build, program and test their robots to meet the season’s engineering challenge. Once the young inventors build a robot, their teams will play the game in one or more of the 98 regional and district competitions that measure the effectiveness of each robot, the power of collaboration and the determination of students.

“I like doing things and not just sitting inside and learning,” said Stillwater Thunderstorm team member Matthew Markum. “You have to use lots of skills from science, technology, engineering and math.

Students are paired with mentors who are professionals in their fields.

“Our goal is to get students interested in careers in science and technology and to teach them the character skills necessary to manage the ever increasing technology in a way that is beneficial to themselves and society,” said Thunderstorm Robotics leader Ron Markum. “Our team comes from a variety of backgrounds and schools. It’s not about the wrench, but about the people.”

Stillwater High School and Meridian Technology Center student David Trost said he is “looking forward to driving a solid defensive robot” with his teammates.

“It’s a really creative game requiring working together,” Trost said.

He spent the afternoon of the kickoff helping a rookie team from Okmulgee get started. Helping other teams is part of the values emphasized by FIRST Robotics.

“You’re trying to beat them but you learn from helping them out, too,” Trost said.

For more information visit www.thunderstormrobotics.org or email ron.markum@okstate.edu.

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