FIRST Kickoff unveils Lunacy

Published 12:08 am Sunday, January 4, 2009

After a long introduction at the most recent For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology robotics competition kickoff, 11 Mississippi teams learned they will have to deal with “Lunacy” to win.

Fourteen teams from Louisiana and two teams from Florida also attended the national kick off at John C. Stennis Space Center, which was broadcast nationwide from New Hampshire University. More than 1,600 teams watched from various kickoff locations across the United States, and hundreds more teams watched from locations around the world, said FIRST Chairman John Abele.

The aim of FIRST is to give students firsthand experience with real world applications such as deadlines and team work and build engineering skills, said FIRST Founder Dean Kamen.

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“We see this as training our future work force,” said Stennis employee Katie Wallace.

More than an hour and a half of introduction, which included Kamen asking society to focus on things more important than what Brittany Spears or Paris Hilton are doing, preceded what teams would have to contend with this year, the competition.

“What we hope we are really building here are serious relationships between serious adults, not superficial ones,” Kamen said.

This year’s event will be called Lunacy, a play on words dealing with the moon landing. In honor of 2009 being the 40th anniversary of the moon landing a special playing field will simulate the low gravity situation of the moon. According to the rules, the low traction surface of the playing field can not be overcome by modifying the included wheels in each team’s robot kit or by the use of special wheels, Kamen said.

In the course of the game, each robot will carry a trailer, which will be used by opposing robots to score. Specially made balls, called “Moon Rocks,” will be used to score points by shooting them into the scoring trailer.

Ethernet cameras will be used in this year’s competition so the robots can automatically track targets.

Due to the slick nature of the course and the anticipation of collisions, bumpers will be required on each robot that cover three-fourths of the robot’s exterior.

Team 1421, commonly known as Team CHAOS, is comprised of students from Pearl River Central High School and Picayune Memorial High School. They have a number of new team members this year, two of which are Timothy Balch and Bobby Baldwin. Balch, a freshman at his school, said that depending on how this year goes he may become a regular to the team.

Baldwin, a senior, said he joined the team because as a kid he always enjoyed building things and he has friends who are part of the team.

Returning team member Mary Pollitz said the implementation of the new surface will be something different for every team competing this year. In every competition for the past 18 years a carpeted surface was what the robots drove on. This year’s new material is not common and will have to be specially ordered so teams can build practice fields. Whether Team CHAOS will build a testing field will depend on how much the material costs, said Maureen Pollitz, Team CHAOS mentor.

Four to five local mentors will help Team CHAOS build and program its robot in preparation for this year’s competition. Each team has only six weeks to build its robot and ship it off.

“We could not do it without the mentors,” Maureen Pollitz said.