Students' robots have good outing in `Botball 2000' competition


April 05, 2000|By Donna Koros Stramella | Donna Koros Stramella,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

PHYSICS STUDENTS from Glen Burnie High School learned recently that Legos are not just child's play. Under the leadership of teacher Sean Moore, a team of 11 students competed in "Botball 2000," a regional robotics and Web page design competition. Glen Burnie High was one of 42 teams, which included schools from as far as Michigan and Tennessee.

In January, participating teams were given a container with 1,600 Lego parts, two microprocessors, motors, digital and analog sensors, and software. Students were to design, build and program a robot that would autonomously seek, gather and place Ping-Pong balls into a tray, then drag the tray to the team's side of the game board.

The white tile game board measured 4 feet by 8 feet. The perimeter was edged with PVC pipe to keep the balls from rolling off, and a bridge ran across the center.

Two teams at a time competed in a 90-second match. At the start of the competition, 20 Ping-Pong balls (half black, half white) rested atop the bridge. The judge turned on a 60-watt light bulb, a signal the robots are programmed to respond to and start on their own.

The robots were supposed to gather the correct-color balls and place them on the tray. Teams were awarded one point for each correct color ball on the tray. Additional points were given for dragging the tray to the correct side of the game board.

Most of the teams, including Glen Burnie's, created two robots. The strategy allowed one robot to collect balls, while the other retrieved the tray.

Glen Burnie's team advanced to the semifinals before being eliminated. The students won an honorable mention design award for "coolest robot" in the competition. By using flexible tubing, students used a motor and sensor controls to turn the robot's smile upside down.

"When he would bump into something, the tubing would reverse so the robot would appear to frown. But when it would correct itself, the smile would return," Moore said.

The teacher said judges were impressed by the robot's virtual face and changing emotions, and the school's model generated a lot of interest at the competition.

"It is truly amazing to see what these kids were able to accomplish in just six weeks," Moore said. "They had to not only build this thing, they had to put sensors on it so it would know where it was and what it was doing."

Team members were Tom Serra, Bryan Woody, Song Lee, Mark Hagood, Patrick Hipp, John Shiffrin, D. J. VonLindenberg, Brandon Nelson, Jason Amistadi, Adam Iser and Carl Endres.

Students wrote the robot's code in computer language (Interactive C), so it could interpret the information from the sensors and negotiate the environment.

In the Web page portion of the event, teams completed their work based on the theme "Mission to Mars." Glen Burnie placed first in the overall category and was presented a trophy. Mark was the primary designer, with assistance from Bryan and Patrick. The Web site can be found at

Teams that advanced to the semifinals and higher in the robotics portion of Botball 2000 are eligible to compete in the national tournament in Austin, Texas, on Aug. 1 and 2. The Glen Burnie team is seeking business sponsors to help make the trip a reality.

"We are in the process of trying to garner support from our school and community to make it possible for these kids to get there," Moore said. "They are definitely motivated, and I believe they deserve the chance to compete at the national level."

Botball 2000 is sponsored by the KISS Institute for Practical Robotics. The nonprofit scientific institute's acronym stands for "Keep it simple, stupid."

The organization was started in 1993 and works with all ages to provide improved learning and skills development through the application of technology, particularly robotics. This is the second year a team from Glen Burnie High has competed. Last year, students placed second in Web page design but did not advance to the semifinals in robotics.

If you are interested in sponsoring the Glen Burnie High team at the national competition or would like more information, call Moore at 410-761-8950, Ext. 273.

Easter egg hunt

Mariner Health of Glen Burnie will hold its annual Easter egg hunt April 22.

The free event is open to the community, with the hunt staged at three times during the day, divided by age groups, on the grounds at 7355 Furnace Branch Road.

Children ages 3 to 5 will search for eggs from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m, ages 6 to 8 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., and ages 9 to 10 from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Reservations must be made by Monday. Rain date is April 24. Information: 410-766-3460, Ext. 244.

AARP meeting

Glen Burnie Chapter 606 of the American Association of Retired Persons will meet Monday at the Glen Burnie Improvement Association building, 19 Crain Highway S.E. The board of directors meets at 11 a.m., a social hour with refreshments starts at noon, and the general meeting is at 1 p.m.

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