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February 10, 2013
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Future engineers problem solve with robots

Robots met in the ring Saturday in Carson High School’s Technology Center for the first scrimmage of the season.The scrimmage gave area high school students in the FIRST Tech Challenger program the opportunity to test their robots before the regional finals on Feb. 23.The regional competition, which also will be in Carson City, is expected to draw about 20 teams from as far away as Las Vegas, San Diego, Utah and Oregon, as well as northern California and Nevada. The public is invited to watch the competition.The two top teams will go on to the world finals April 24-27 in St. Louis, Mo.“Every year is a different goal and the kids have to learn different technologies,” said tournament director Dee Frewert, a science educator.This year, each robot has two and a half minutes to remove plastic donut-shaped rings of various weights from a rack and place them individually on a larger rack of PVC pipes in the middle of the ring. The first 30 seconds, the robots operate autonomously and then a driver using a remote control maneuvers the robot.While the teams are judged by how well they accomplish a series of tasks, judges also look at documentation and teamwork.The core value of the FIRST program, is “gracious professionalism,” Frewert said, explaining that it involves helping other teams too.“Gracious professionalism is the FIRST philosophy,” lead judge Seena Drapala told 22 engineers being trained in an adjacent room to judge the regionals. “Be on the lookout for that.”Drapala, a 30-year veteran of GE, now retired, went through the judging guidelines and offered tips and comments on what the students experienced, including the speed with which they develop their robots.“These kids got their assignments in September,” she said, emphasizing the turnaround time that would challenge most companies.The FIRST programs enlist the aid of professionals to train the students and technology companies to sponsor teams.Drapala continues to be an active volunteer as well as a member of the Society of Women Engineers, Sierra Nevada section and the Society of Women Engineers.“What’s really neat is getting companies involved at the level where they can actually see the skills involved,” she said.Technology companies keep a close eye on the FIRST programs. Many FIRST students go on to become engineers and join the pool from which technology firms draw employees.The companies provide “$15 million in scholarships that are available only to high school kids who participate in these programs,” Frewert said. “Those are the types of kids they actually want to recruit.”

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Feb 10, 2013 02:55AM Published Feb 10, 2013 02:52AM Copyright 2013 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.