Future Engineers ‘Face Off’ in Regional Competition

CSM’s La Plata Campus Hosts BAE Systems, Maryland FIRST Robotics Challenge

The gymnasium burst with energy exponentially throughout the day Feb. 21 as 39 high school teams from Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, and Brooklyn, New York, converged on the La Plata Campus of the College of Southern Maryland to compete head to head, or rather robot to robot, in a regional competition that will send the top two teams to the FIRST World Championship in April at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Five Southern Maryland teams, all from St. Mary’s County, competed with two teams reaching the semifinals and one team reaching the quarterfinals.

“Robotics competitions, such as today’s brings the excitement of a sporting event to science and technology, stretching the boundaries of these young minds and challenging them to apply their science and technology skills in solving the next generation’s most pressing issues,” CSM President Dr. Brad Gottfried said during opening remarks. “They are passionate about what they are doing, and results indicate that such competitors are more than twice as likely to pursue a career specifically in engineering—that’s great news for our local employers such as Pax River and Indian Head,” Gottfried added.

Stan Toney, regional director of FIRST and coach of the King’s Christian Academy’s “Los Fuegos” of Callaway, told the students, “You will be inventors, you are inventors. As you toy, design, build, you are inventing.” Toney also reminded students of “Gracious Professionalism,” an aspect of teamwork that FIRST organizers wish to incorporate into the matches, emphasizing fierce competition with respect for competitors.

Ted Wright, president of BAE Systems Technology Solutions and Services, Inc., then warmed up the crowd of competitors, parents, judges and volunteers with a few engineering jokes.

“You have a car, an owner, a technician and an engineer,” Wright began. “The owner says, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ the technician says, ‘break it, so I have something to do,’ and the engineer says, ‘if it isn’t broke, it doesn’t have enough design features.’” The students loved it.

Wright told the students he was a kindred spirit, “Let me tell you who I am: I am president of BAE Systems. I am an engineer. I am a space systems engineer,” he said to wild applause.

BAE Systems is the major sponsor of this event, and events like it around the country. Nationally during the 2009 season, BAE Systems is sponsoring more than 145 of the 1,686 competing FIRST teams, providing direct support to 106 teams in 19 states and the District, and sponsoring 13 of the 40 regional FIRST competitions including CSM's.

“Now, think like an engineer and go have fun!” Wright told the students.

This year's FTC competition uses a TETRIX robotics kit, which allows teams to be creative in their designs while maintaining features that are common in high-end robotics systems. The FTC field of play is a 12-by-12-foot arena. This year's game is called ‘Face-Off’ and is designed to provide challenges that mirror real robotics challenges that exist within the industry. Robots must be designed to move over rough, slippery terrain, navigate off and on a ramp, and manipulate objects—in this case 70 hockey pucks. Competitors program their robots to scoop, drop and knock pucks into scoring areas in a timed period. They also block opponents attempting to score.

Each team played five timed matches with randomly selected alliance members in the qualifying round—four robots share the ring at one time, all trying to collect blue or red hockey pucks from bins along the side of the ring and then scooting around to drop, or in some cases, hurl their pucks into bulls-eye sectioned containers.

The team drivers were calm and appeared oblivious to the noise and commotion around them, while the spectators were out of their seats cheering and contorting their bodies as if to will the robots to move this way or that to score.

At the end of each match, referees in traditional black-and-white striped uniforms, entered the ring to tabulate the score. After quick check of the leader board and timing of the next match, teams raced back to staging rooms where they made mechanical or programming adjustments. Tool boxes and plastic tubs were overflowing with robot parts and tools, battery chargers consumed every wall outlet, and, as with athletic sporting competitions, empty Mountain Dew and Powerade bottles, pizza crusts and chip wrappers filled the trash cans.

In the championship rounds, top ranked teams invite other teams to join them in an alliance consisting of three teams until eight alliances are formed. In the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, alliances play an elimination format.

In the stands, spectators cheered, waved signs, stomped on the bleachers and even yelled, “down in front!” to anyone blocking their view of the competition. As the competition encouraged team spirit and enthusiasm, many teams donned matching uniforms or outfits, such as “Team Tiki,” a group of students from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, McLean High School, and Longfellow Middle School from McLean, Va., winners of the Motivate Award.

Spangler Software Incredibles Homeschool’s team, “Under the Son,” from Hollywood was ranked second going into the championship rounds. They advanced to the semifinals where a mechanical malfunction stymied them. Lydean Spangler, the team mom, is a computer scientist. David Spangler, the team dad, is an engineer. This is the family’s first competition.

They learned about the robotics competition about five months ago, said Lydean Spangler. The family has participated in several practices prior to the competition and feels good about winning the first round against Norfolk Technical Center. “We are seeing a range of functionality and design ideas that we can use next year,” said Lydean Spangler.

The Spanglers were outfitted in matching rainbow tie-dye shirts and had a cheering section consisting of aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends. Team leader Rene Spangler, 14, learned several programming software for the competition, including NXT, LabView and RobotC. Her siblings are Erik, 12, as the robot’s driver; Mary, 10, as the team coach; and Laura, 7, as the team cheerleader.

Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center’s “Jokers Wild” from Leonardtown coached by Dave Buddenbohn was ranked 29th going into the championship rounds, and was picked up as an alliance member by the Spangler team, moving onto the semifinal round with them. The Jokers Wild team consisted of Ryan Burns, Andrew Davis, Eddie Henderson, Aaron Sossong and James Seifert.

Leonardtown High School’s “Raider Robotics” was ranked 21st going into the quarterfinals. They were outscored by the alliance containing team “G-Force” that went on to win the top prize. Raider Robots is a team that meets after school and sometimes on Saturdays, according to engineering teacher and team coach Drew Evans. With all juniors and sophomores, Evans hopes the team will build on the experience from this competition to return next year. Team Captain Ben Schanuk, was joined by James Giovagnoli, Michael Ogletree, Ed Sierra, Jake Robbins and Raymond Tuazon.

A second Forrest Career and Technology Center team also coached by Buddenbohn, the “Transformers,” ranked 30th following five qualifying rounds and a King’s Christian Academy team coached by Toney, “Los Fuegos” from Callaway ranked 35th; neither advanced to the championship rounds. Team Transformers members are Alex Yuen, Lauren Garcia, Matthew Mays, Gabrielle Menard and Courtney Rice, and team Los Fuegos members are Ryan Puckett, Chris Askew, Charlie Richardson, Cody Graham, Alex Kerzner, Camden Miller, Morgan Denes, Mick Goodnow and Derek Hurst.

Once the scores were tabulated and selections made for special awards, judges and referees lined up to congratulate the winners. The top two alliances, consisting of six teams, all received individual medals and a team trophy.

The team with the highest ranking in the winning alliance, “Twisted Bots,” coached by Jon Thompson of Middle Peninsula Home Schoolers of Glouster, Va., advanced to the world championships.

The winner of the Inspire Award, the highest award given by FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), is a rookie team from McHenry in Western Maryland. Sponsored by Garrett Engineering and Robotics Society, Inc. (GEARS) and Garrett County 4-H, “G-Force” will also advance to the world championship April 15-17.

The Inspire Award winner received $500 from BAE Systems and the first, second and third ranked winning alliance teams were each presented a $500 check from the CSM Foundation to be applied toward the FTC World Championship entry fee. The first ranked team is automatically qualified for the world championship, with second and third place teams advancing if space allows.

For a complete listing of award winners and competition photos, visit http://ftc.csmd.edu/.

Locally, CSM has been bringing robotics competitions to Southern Maryland's students since 2006. “The ultimate goal of the FTC program is to get students excited about science, technology and engineering by providing a sports-like venue where the lessons they learned in school can be applied to the robots they are building,” said CSM Professor Jeff Tjiputra who is also chair of CSM's Business and Technology Division.

Tjiputra created a separate CSM robotics competition just for Southern Maryland students in grades 5 through 12 with fun, age-appropriate fields of play and LEGO and VEX robotics kits that are affordable, allowing more schools and students to participate. That competition will be held March 7.

“We are thrilled to have BAE Systems as a sponsor for both of our competitions,” said Tjiputra. “Involvement from the business community is essential, and support from a high-tech powerhouse like BAE is incredible,” Tjiputra added. In addition to BAE Systems, funding has been made available through grants from the Energetic Technology Center and TIME Center and through CSM partners including the College of Southern Maryland Foundation, Dominion Power, the Charles County Commissioners, the Charles County Technology Council, the Patuxent Partnership, the FRC 836 RoboBees, the Grace Brethren CyberKnights FLL team, Johnston & Associates, Northrop Grumman and Wyle.

Captions

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CSM President Dr. Brad Gottfried welcomes robotics teams, parents and guests to the 2nd annual BAE Systems, Maryland FIRST Tech Challenge competition at the college’s La Plata Campus Feb. 21. The regional competition was the qualifier for the FIRST World Championship in Atlanta April 15-17.

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BAE Systems T.S.S. President Ted Wright warms up the crowd of high school students, their coaches, volunteers and spectators at the BAE Systems, Maryland FIRST Tech Challenge Feb. 21 at the College of Southern Maryland, La Plata Campus.

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Members of Southern Maryland local team “Los Fuegos” from King’ss Christian Academy in Callaway, coached by Stan Toney, regional director of FIRST, make some last-minute adjustments to their robot in between the opening rounds of the BAE Systems, Maryland FIRST Tech Challenge Feb. 21 at the College of Southern Maryland, La Plata Campus.

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Transformer team captain and driver Alex Yuen, left, and teammate Gabrielle Menard, right, prepare to scoop up hockey pucks with their robot in the opening rounds, as coach Dave Buddenbohn, center, looks on. The Transformers represent one of two teams from Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center in Leonardtown.

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Members of the Transformer team from Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center in Leonardtown pose with their robot during the opening rounds of the 2008 BAE Systems, Maryland FIRST Tech Challenge held at the College of Southern Maryland, La Plata Campus Feb. 21. From left are Lauren Garcia, Gabrielle Menard, Coach Dave Buddenbohn and team captain and driver Alex Yuen. Not pictured are Matthew Mays and Courtney Rice.

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Members of Southern Maryland team “Under the Son” from Hollywood, left, in tie-dye shirts, celebrate an early score over “G-Force” from McHenry in Western Maryland, right. The Hollywood homeschool team consists of, from left, Erik Spangler, 12, Mary Spangler, 10, and Renee Spangler, 14. Their youngest sibling and team cheerleader, Laura, 7, is not pictured. “G-Force” went on to win FIRST Tech Challenge’s highest award, the Inspire Award, and advance to the world championship in Atlanta in April.

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Members of “Raider Robotics” from Leonardtown High School, all juniors and sophomores, await the next competition in the qualifying rounds of the BAE Systems, Maryland FIRST Tech Challenge held at the College of Southern Maryland, La Plata Campus Feb. 21. From left are Ben Schanck, the team captain and driver, Michael Ogletree, James Giovagnoli, Ed Sierra and Jake Robbins. Not pictured are Ray Tuazon and team coach Drew Evans.

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Members of team “Los Fuegos” from King’s Christian Academy in Callaway, have their robot’s computer program checked by CSM Associate Professor of Technology Joe Burgin, a volunteer judge for the competition.

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Each team played five timed matches with randomly selected alliance members in the qualifying round—four robots share the ring at one time, all trying to collect blue or red hockey pucks from bins along the side of the ring and then moving around to drop, or in some cases, hurl their pucks into bulls-eye sectioned containers. At the end of each match, teams of volunteer referees in traditional black-and-white striped uniforms entered the ring to tabulate the score.

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Members of “Jokers Wild,” one of two teams from Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center in Leonardtown and coached by Dave Buddenbohn, was ranked 29th going into the championship rounds. The “Jokers Wild” team captain and driver Ryan Burns, center, is flanked by teammate Eddie Henderson, left, and Buddenbohn, right.

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Blocking a competitor’s robot from returning to home base is one of the scoring tactics used in the qualifying timed matches. Teams can also help each other out by pushing a fellow alliance member with technical difficulties back to home base. Here, “Under the Son,” gets a little help from a friend.

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Members of the “G-Force” rookie team from McHenry in western Maryland gather around the playing field before their opening match at the 2008 BAE Systems, Maryland FIRST Tech Challenge Feb. 21 at CSM’s La Plata Campus. The team won the Inspire Award, the highest award given by FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC). Sponsored by Garrett Engineering and Robotics Society, Inc. (GEARS) and Garrett County 4-H, “G-Force” will also advance to the world championship April 15-17.

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Julian Hamer of team “BawtBallin’” coached by Jim Audette from Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills heads back to her team’s staging room to make quick program and mechanical adjustments before the next match. “BawtBallin’” advanced to the final round and was part of the winning alliance. The team is an alternate for entry to the FIRST World Championship in Atlanta if first-place winners from around the country are unable to attend.

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Southern Maryland teams, “Jokers Wild” from Dr. James A. Forrest Technical and Career Center in Leonardtown and “Under the Son,” a homeschool team from Hollywood compete at the BAE Systems, Maryland FIRST Tech Challenge hosted by CSM Feb. 21. “Under the Son” finished the day with the highest ranking among Southern Maryland teams.

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“Twisted Bots” from Middle Peninsula Home Schoolers of Gloucester, Va., coached by Jon Thompson, advanced to the top spot in the 2008 BAE Systems, Maryland FIRST Tech Challenge Feb. 21 at the College of Southern Maryland, La Plata Campus. The team received a check for $500 from the CSM Foundation toward their entry fee at the FIRST World Championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta April 15-17. The team also received the Innovate Award. The judges chose the “Twisted Bots” robot because, as the judges noted, “It uses an innovative planetary gear system for the control of the actuator and side-mounted wheels for guidance during autonomous wall-crawling. LABView programming and out-of-the-box DEMO program, built specifically for the judges’ awareness, made this a highly innovative design. Topping this off is the unique crocheted basket and multi-color paint scheme that makes this robot a real standout.”

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Team “BawtBallin’” coached by Jim Audette from Garrison Forest School, an all-girls school in Owings Mills, prepares for the championship round. From left are Rachel McComan, Dani Stower, Julian Hamer and Jillian Epstein. “BawtBallin’” advanced to the final round and was part of the winning alliance. The team is an alternate for entry to the FIRST World Championship in Atlanta if first-place winners from around the country are unable to attend.

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“Twisted Bots” cheerleaders from Middle Peninsula Home Schoolers of Gloucester, Va., foreground, and spectators cheer on the final alliance teams in the championship match Feb. 21 at the College of Southern Maryland, La Plata Campus. “Robotics competitions, such as today’s brings the excitement of a sporting event to science and technology, stretching the boundaries of these young minds and challenging them to apply their science a

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