Sat07262014

Schools

Community Botball Robotics teams return from international competition


Courtesy of Lauren Yang
Los Altos Community Botball Team members collaborate on their robotics challenge.

Three Los Altos Community Botball Teams attended the Global Conference on Educational Robotics, an international robotics competition, July 6-10 in Norman, Okla. More than 50 teams worldwide competed in the International Botball Competition.

Botball is a program that teaches students in middle and high school about robotics, engineering, math and programming though a team environment. Teams begin with a set of parts and two Linux robot controllers, then construct and use the C programming language to program one or two autonomous robots to perform.

The Mars Space Rover was the theme for this season’s Botball challenge. To score points, the robots had to place rocket boosters on vertical launch poles. The tubelike objects represented the rocket resources needed to launch the Rover. Organic and inorganic samples that Rover would collect were represented by pom-poms that the robots gathered for points. To add points, teams could sort the pom-poms by color.

One Los Altos team attempted to place 10 boosters on the tallest launch pole, requiring them to construct and program a robot to lift an arm approximately twice its size. Another team attempted to sort the pom-pom objects by color with a camera sensor. All three local teams designed robots to place rocket boosters on the launch poles, the most challenging task.

One of the Los Altos teams placed sixth overall, another came in 20th. The third team was handicapped by the closure of San Francisco International Airport, which delayed the arrival of its robots.

Multiple reference resources were available to the students as they worked on the robots. The conference included educational lectures and workshops, with topics ranging from best practices in programming to microcontrollers. The conference experience encourages teams to meet and socialize with other teams and share techniques that make their robots function.

Although the majority of Botball teams are school-based, the Los Altos Community Botball Teams comprise students from Los Altos, Mountain View, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and San Jose. Before the season begins, experienced team members conduct an eight-week training program focused on programming skills so that new members learn the basics of C programming.

Because the Botball program contains development phases of brainstorming, design, implementation, testing, debugging, documentation and meeting a deadline, the tournament provides team members a realistic preview of the demands of careers in technology, science and math.

For more information or to sign up for next year, call 965-8037 or visit Botball.org or LosAltosRobotics.org.

Lauren Yang has been a member of the Los Altos Community Botball Team for two years. She recently graduated from Blach Intermediate School and will be a freshman at Menlo School in the fall.

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