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January 28, 2013

Learning Comes FIRST in Robotics Competitions Held at APL

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For the fourth straight year, APL is helping Maryland students learn that a little competition can go a long way toward building careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

On January 5, about 200 students from age 9 to 16 converged on APL’s Kossiakoff Center for one of Maryland’s FIRST LEGO League robotics qualifying competitions. Split into teams of up to 10 students, the kids had designed, built, programmed, and tested autonomous LEGO robots that had to perform a series of tasks, or missions, within a 2½-minute time limit. The robots had to maneuver around a tabletop “course,” move objects, bring specific things back to a home base, and end up in a specified final location. Students used special LEGO kits to build the robots and program them on laptop computers.

Teams from Ellicott City, Lanham, Bowie, Highland, Kensington, and Laurel were winners in various categories and are headed to the Maryland State Championship at the end of January.

Tech Challenge

On February 23, APL and FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) will again team up to host the FIRST Tech Challenge Maryland state robotics championship in the Kossiakoff Center. In this competition, 32 teams of 14- to 18-year-olds (essentially high school students) from Maryland and Washington, D.C., will design, build, and program their robots to cooperate with a partner robot and compete against two other robots. This year’s theme, “Ring It Up,” calls for the robots to collect, move, and place rings across a 12-by-12-foot playing field. The aluminum-framed robots, which can be up to 18 inches long on each side, are programmed using a variety of languages. (Click here for a description of this year’s challenge.)

Awards are given for the actual competition as for well as for design, community outreach, and other real-world accomplishments.

The Next Generation

“The idea behind FIRST is to foster the next generation of engineers and scientists by getting students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math through a forum that allows for fun, learning, competition, and team building,” says the National Security Analysis Department’s Duncan Brown, who coordinates FIRST competitions at APL.

“Nearly 140 APL volunteers support the two competitions annually,” he adds, “and our volunteers are always amazed at the energy and resourcefulness of the students. Nearly everyone comes away with a warm feeling that they have helped grow the next generation of STEM professionals.”

Maryland FIRST offers a progression of programs for students in grades K–12, ages 6–18. With support from sponsors, coaches, mentors, and friends, FIRST programs challenge and inspire more than 3,000 students in more than 400 teams across the state. For more information about Maryland FIRST, visit http://www.mdfirst.org/.