Robots Compete in Botball Tournament

a Botball robot in action
A Botball robot in action.
(cc) BOTBALL

Hundreds of hand-built robots, and the middle and high school students who built them, converged on the San Mateo County Fairgrounds to compete against each other.

Co-sponsored by NASA Ames Research Center, the 2010 Northern California Regional Botball Tournament was held April 24, 2010. For several weeks before, 22 teams of middle and high school students were working on their robots to compete in the tournament.

“The kids are naturally attracted to robotics. This learning experience is unlike anything they have worked on before. They love working on a project where the teacher doesn’t have the answer,” said Terry Grant, an engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, who volunteers to help students and teachers.

The Northern California Botball Program opened with a two-day workshop Feb. 27-28, 2010 at NASA Ames. At the workshop, teams received their kits of reusable robotics equipment.

Each kit is used in the competition and will be kept by the school or team to be integrated into the classroom or for extracurricular activities. This ensures that schools will be able to continue to expand their science, math, and technology curricula through robotics after the Botball season concludes.

“Because of NASA’s funding for this Botball competition, we are able to keep the cost down for the kits,” said Marci Corey, program manager for the KISS Institute for Practical Robotics in Norman, Oklahoma. “NASA sponsorship has directly helped to form teams by granting most of the registration cost, especially in poor and underserved communities,” said Grant.

Students learned computer programming so that they could build their pair of robots, which operate without a remote control throughout the entire competition. This year’s theme is to rescue ducks from an oil spill.

This year marked the 13th annual northern California Botball Robotics Tournament, which NASA has continuously sponsored and helped to provide with technical mentors. NASA uses autonomous robots in space planetary exploration, and uses Botball as an opportunity to reach out to its future workforce and provide relevant hands-on experience and skills.

The Botball program is aimed at increasing student enthusiasm and skills in mathematics, science, physics, and design through hands-on education. The project is co-sponsored by NASA’s Robotic Alliance Project at NASA Ames, and the KISS Institute for Practical Robotics in Norman, Oklahoma, which was started by David Miller, a former engineer at NASA’S Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Participating cities in Northern California included:

Anderson, McClellan, Campbell, Hayward, Hillsborough, Oakland, Los Altos, Richmond, San Jose, Fremont, San Lorenzo, and San Mateo.