Robot Alpha One is ready for competition today

High school students' creation due in Annapolis

March 18, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

For years, Chris Niznik filled his room with Transformers, Legos and other toys he could take apart and put back together. As a homeschooled middle school pupil, he worked with a robotics-building team at Woodlawn High School.

This year, the Century High freshman prodded his school system to start a robotics club. The results of the club's rookie effort - a 5-foot-tall robot named Alpha One - will be entered today in a regional competition at the Naval Academy that leads to NASA's national robotics contest.

"I've always really enjoyed putting stuff together and being able to say I made that," said Chris, 14. "I knew there was a bunch of other kids who like doing stuff on computers and working with their hands, so I thought it would be really fun to start a robotics club."

The annual contest, called the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition - began 10 years ago. This year, the competition has attracted more than 20,000 students on 935 teams registered for 26 regional events.

The winners will compete in a championship April 15-17 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, where more than 7,000 students are expected to participate.

Each team begins with an identical kit of parts but must write its own software to create a mobile robot capable of performing a specific set of tasks. Because robots vie with one another at competitions, the robot-making teams must build offensive and defensive capabilities into their designs.

Jamieson G. DuRette, a technology education teacher at Eldersburg's Liberty High School, and Chris's mother, Linda Niznik, emphasized that the project is a product of the team, which includes students from Century, Westminster and Liberty high schools.

"This was not one of those teams where you had 16 engineers and parents doing all the work," Linda Niznik said. "These kids did this themselves."

The FIRST Robotics Chesapeake Regional will be held today, tomorrow and Saturday at the Naval Academy's Halsey Field House in Annapolis.

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