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FIRST Robotics 08

Every year thousands of young people from across the country compete in something called FIRST robotics and for the first time ever, one of the battles of metal and minds was waged here in Oklahoma.
FIRST Robotics 08


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Show Dates

Show 0815: FIRST Robotics 08

Air date: April 13, 2008



Rob:  Every year, thousands of young minds from across the country compete in something called, FIRST Robotics.  And for the first time, one of the battles of metal and minds was waged right here in Oklahoma.  Our Alisa Hines was there when everything kicked off earlier this year and followed some teams throughout the process of building their own robot.

Alisa:  From flags waving; to mascots dancing; even hair painted in team colors; you would think you were at a high school sporting event, and you’d be right.  Although, it’s not quite what you’re used to.

Ron Markum It’s almost like a wrestling event and a football event and a basketball event combined, but at the end you end up with an alliance winner, a group of three teams that will end up qualifying to go to the championship in Atlanta, Georgia, this year.

Alisa:  Ron Markum is the event coordinator for Oklahoma’s regional event and says it’s more than a competition.

Markum:  The competition is not the main focus of the event.  The main focus of the event is to change the way kids think about science and technology.

One, two, three.

Alisa:  And for Ponca City’s Alec Carson, it has!

Alec Carson:  I was planning on going into music theatre.  Now that is important to me because I’ve got some speaking skills from doing plays and such.  But now I’m more thinking around medical technology where I can go and work with the different machines that are actually in a hospital.

Alisa:  Now for this game, size does matter.

Carson:  The object of this year’s game is to maneuver a forty-inch, ten-pound ball around the track to score points.

Alisa:  Sounds easy enough; but there’s more.

Carson:  Now a bonus is, there’s an overhead across the track and during autonomous mode, which is where the robot is all on its own by programming, you can knock the ball off for extra points and then you can pick it up during manual and take it around the track.

Alisa:  Something an experienced team can figure out, but for a rookie team, it’s a huge challenge; made a lot easier.

Darryl Mosier:  We have been helped by Ponca City the most.  They have been instrumental in teaching us just a few little lessons from the past, like safety.

And if you sat there, and you try to throw it over, it’s going to take longer to get it back under control.

Alisa:  They call it mentoring.  And it’s something the Ponca City team takes very seriously.  Ponca City’s instructor, Tonya Scott, says they wanted to make sure Oklahoma’s rookie teams are well prepared.

Tonya Scott:  We did an astounding first time event.  We pulled an all-day, kit-bot, build session.  Instead of the rookies leaving and going home, and then opening up all of this stuff and going “what do I do now?,” we basically had a workshop that lasted until six o’clock that night, and all twenty-four rookie teams here in Oklahoma, left with a rolling, functional robot and a far better understanding of what FIRST robotics and using the kit-bot kits, you know, what it’s about.

Alisa:  Intellectual knowledge sharing, that according to OSU’s president, Burns Hargis, helps students realize just what they are capable of.

Burns Hargis:  I think there are two things that probably act as impediments.  One is, they’re not sure they can do it, think it’s maybe too hard; and the second thing is, it’s not any fun.  Well this proves it’s both of those things.  They can do it, and it is fun.

Alisa:  Thirty-eight teams from across Oklahoma and surrounding areas competed in the Oklahoma regional.

Thank you all for coming to Oklahoma City.

Alisa:  And according to CareerTech’s state director, Phil Berkenbile, it’s a hands-on learning process.

Phil Berkenbile:  It’s not just taking a set of parts and putting them together by a certain diagram.  They have their own plans.  It makes them think with their hands.  How is this sprocket and this chain going to affect the drive of the robot?  How’s it going to affect the pickup power?  How’s it going to affect with the electrical current?  They’ll make some of the parts they use, and design the machine the way they see fit.  That’s why you won’t see any two machines alike.  And it’s fun to watch their imagination go through their hands and say, you know if we did this, if we move this over a little bit more we’d have better balance on the machine, if we use this kind of frame we’d have maybe a little heavier weight machine.  But it’s fun, and I think also it makes them think, critically, about how things work.

Alisa:  Critical thinking needed for today’s careers.  Born in Russia, and moved to Oklahoma when he was ten, Yuri Migunov always wanted to be an engineer, so he enrolled at Meridian Technology Center.

Yuri Migunov:  Well, it was really as simple as participating in the class, because starting with the first weekend of this year, the entire pre-engineering class, and some of the people from other classes at Meridian were involved with this project; and it was just a great opportunity for me to get involved with some hands-on engineering.

Alisa:  Engineering being taught to not just high school students.  Students as young as eight years old have their own competition, substituting metal parts with Legos.

Adam Ferguson:  It is fairly difficult.  Mostly in programming the robot to go the right way and get in the right position.

Alisa:  Stillwater’s Adam Ferguson says, even though their robot is made out of Legos, it can still perform many different tasks.

Ferguson:  So basically, we have all sorts of different attachments, like different kinds of pushers that we’ll put on the robot to move different things, or the arm we use to place a solar panel on the house.

Alisa:  Now this competition is about more than just the robot…sometimes it’s about marketing your team and inspiring others.

Tonya Scott:  This is our inaugural regional here in Oklahoma; and there’s a lot of rookies here.  There’s twenty-four rookie teams; and when we were rookies, we remember looking up to the older, veteran teams as kind of a standard, and so we thought, well, we want to show the teams that if a little robotics team from Ponca City, Oklahoma, can bring twenty awards home after nine years of activity, they can too.

Alisa:  Teams also root for each other, because you never know who you’re going to be paired with.  Each match is made up of groups of teams picked at random that then compete as one team.  And according to Oklahoma astronaut John Herrington, that’s part of the fun; and what FIRST Robotics is all about.

John Herrington:  One thing we talk about is gracious professionalism.  We hear that over and over again.  Kids can compete, and it’s very exciting; but they treat others with respect.  They work together as a group; and so you don’t have a lot of, as they say, chest thumping; I’m better than you are; it’s like we’re all in this together.  We’re all trying to achieve a certain goal in this competition, so it makes it fun.

Alisa:  An attitude that continues through the awards ceremony; and even though the Ponca City team didn’t win the overall competition.

Well, a claw broke, and we got too many penalties to continue on, so we lost.  Oh well; what happens, happens.

Alisa:  When it came time to give the chairman’s award, the award that says your team exemplifies the true meaning of FIRST; Ponca City’s efforts paid off.

Three years of hard work, and we finally got it.  You bet I’m syched.  I can hardly breathe.  I’m having an asthma attack.

It’s just the end of a long, long journey that we’ve been on to bring FIRST Robotics to Oklahoma students; and it’s great.

Students shout in unison:  FIRST Robotics.

Rob:  Well this is really a cool event for lack of a better word, but there is also an educational and an economic reason behind all this.

Alisa:  That’s right Rob.  Here in the U S, we are lacking in engineering graduates.  And that makes it really difficult for us to compete with the rest of the world.  So, the competition is designed to get students involved in science and technology through fun, hands-on robotics.

Rob:  And it’s also important to note here that none of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for some help from some of our state legislature, in particular, Tad Jones, who is the chairman of the education committee.

Alisa:  That’s right.  The legislature helped fund any team that wanted to participate.  They were able to provide five thousand dollars per team.  Now that sounds like a lot, but the entry fee six thousand dollars.  So, teams still had to come up with a little bit extra money, plus money if they wanted to expand on their kit of robot parts.

Rob:  And the national finals are later this week, and we’ll keep you posted on how the Oklahoma teams fare.