Student team wins robotics contest

Entry defeats 40 others in regional competition

April 01, 2001|By Alyson Harkins | Alyson Harkins,SUN STAFF

A team of students from the Naval Academy, Broadneck High School and Severn School has won a regional championship in a high-tech event - robotics competition - and this week they're heading to Disney World.

With a robot fancifully named "Das Goat," the group took first place in the Eastern Regional Championship of the FIRST Robotics Competition at Drexel University in Philadelphia March 24, part of a nationwide series whose winners move on to the national event Thursday through Saturday at Disney's Epcot Center.

"Das Goat" - named for the Naval Academy's goat mascot, with perhaps a nod to the submarine movie "Das Boot" - weighs 125 pounds, was constructed from sheet metal, wheels and two drill motors, and is powered by a 12-volt battery. It defeated about 40 other entries in the 10th annual competition.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a nonprofit organization sponsored by corporations with the goal of inspiring student interest in subjects such as mathematics, engineering and technology.

Its events team high school students with engineers from businesses or universities. The teams are given a problem and a set of rules six weeks before the competition, and they must build a robot that can solve a problem or accomplish a set of tasks fastest.

The Philadelphia event took on the look of sports, played out in an arena with referees, cheerleaders and spectators. Robots were required to maneuver around a field of obstacles, pick up balls, place them into cylinders and balance them on a sort of see-saw.

Each match featured four teams working together toward a goal of scoring points, requiring each team not only to have an impressive project, but also to be able to coordinate and work effectively with the others, an aspect in which the midshipmen's leadership training proved helpful, said Richard E. Link, an associate professor of electrical engineering at the academy, one of the faculty advisers.

The arrangement also required quick thinking on the part of the team members and knowledge of what their project did best.

"We could do one thing really well," said Jonathan Donahue, a team member and senior at Severn School. That was the ability to pick up balls and place them into the cylinders, which was enough to enable the team and its partners to score the second-most points in competition history.

All of the planning, design, building and implementation of the project was done by amateur engineers, the students. Through partnerships between businesses and schools, some other teams had the benefit of professional engineers at their disposal.

Nicholas Anna, a junior from Broadneck High and member of the "Das Goat" pit crew, said, "Our project was entirely built by students. As far as getting your hands dirty and actually doing the work-that was all us."

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