Mid-South News
2:46 am
Mon February 23, 2009

Memphis High School Students Engineer Robots for Their First National Competition

Memphis, TN –

Memphis high school students are gearing up to compete in a national robotics competition. Nicole Erwin has more.

The Memphis Grizzlies Academy Team of six has put together the school's first robot. In six weeks time the high school students have done what other teams have had eight weeks to do create a robot out of a box of components sent by US FIRST, or (FRC). FIRST Robotics Competition is a varsity sport of the mind, designed to help students develop an interest in engineering and research. Medtronic is sponsoring three teams made of up of different schools here in Memphis; Hamilton High, Booker T. Washington and Fairly High make up team one. MASE, the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering is team two and the Grizzlies Academy is number three. Each team is equipped with a $12,000 budget and a Medtronic mentor. The Griz Team says they may be short on time but not on support. Seventeen-year-old Calvin Williams says his team is a part of an alliance making a win easier to achieve.

The alliance is a part of the competition. The Grizzlies won't know who they are competing with until they reach Minneapolis, where they will meet other teams from the US in their region for round one. There are three rounds total. Greg Marik is a senior product development engineer with Medtronic and also the team's mentor. He says the task is rather challenging sometimes because its a pretty detailed project. He says the competition has a number of different attributes. Number one, you have to score. A teams scores by putting moon balls in their opponents trailers, and the trailers are being pulled by the robots. Marik says whether or not you take an offensive or defensive strategy is up to the team.

Griz Team member Jerome Hampton says his team is working on a defensive strategy, and if there is time they will move toward an offensive plan of action. Hampton says competition is important to him because he wants to be an engineer. As a part of the program FRC tapes the process so the students can use it in their applications for college. Kwayme Gossett says unlike some of the other robotic competitions on television these robots are not built to destroy. He says the reason the competition isn't built around destroying other robots is because of the gracious professionalism advocated in the program. Gossett credits Dean Kamen, the founder of the program for allowing kids who don't want to go into careers where they have to become superstars something else to work towards. Gossett says the robotics project will look great on any job or college application.

Jane Walters is the principal at the Grizzlies Academy, she says besides the Medtronic mentors being great role models for her students the robotic project is one of few opportunities her students have to compete during the school year. Because the school is sponsored by a professional basketball team, the kids are not allowed to compete for fear others will view the professional sports teams as trying to create some kind of high school sports farm.

The robot is a 130 pound blue and yellow wooden box. Inside the box are all the intricate wires and the brain of the beast. Not your typical looking small metal moving man. Calvin Williams and Jerome Hampton say they are proud of what their team has done so far.

There are 1700 teams competing for the National Championship. The Memphis teams will be competing in the nations largest regional competition with 102 teams. But only the final four teams standing will meet up in D.C for the grand prize of a meeting with President Barack Obama.