Their robots were temperamental. Unpredictable.
By JOE ROBERTSON
The Kansas City Star
Figuring out just what teenagers from all around Missouri and beyond were doing Sunday to try to tame their hotwired machines meant a lot of talking while walking.
The rounds of competition at the FIRST Tech Challenge at the University of Missouri-Kansas City came at the robotics teams relentlessly, and problems and more problems were demanding solutions. Little time to chat.
The Red Hot Techie Peppers trouble at the moment?
Or rather, the static electricity generated in their robot as it moved across the thin carpet of UMKCs Swinney Recreation Center.
It froze all of our wiring, said 16-year-old David OKelley of Raytown. Were not the only ones who have suffered it today.
Heres whats supposed to happen in situations like this:
Teenagers, who spent weeks and even months planning for the event, work together, even with opposing teams, to make these things work.
They get not only the thrill of accomplishment, but the satisfaction of creative teamwork.
They gain confidence. They see themselves as engineering problem-solvers. They pursue a college education in science, technology, engineering and/or math the so-called STEM careers.
Or, as chief judge Craig Klimczak exhorted the crowd of competitors at the opening of the event, he sees them all breaking out into the working world with your minds, hearts, souls and spirits in pursuit of a life mission to create something of value to make this world a better place.
Here was a Super Bowl, he said, that celebrates the accomplishments of the mind.
This was Kansas Citys inaugural FIRST Tech Challenge. It is a robotic challenge that is staking a middle ground between the FIRST Lego League competition at the middle-school level and the FIRST Robotics Challenge that has been holding regional championships at Kansas Citys Hale Arena for almost a decade.
FIRST For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology was founded in New Hampshire in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen and has become an internationally popular competition.
But the cost demands and intense time constraints in the larger robotic competition made it tough for many schools and clubs to enter, especially if they lacked a strong mentoring relationship with engineering professionals.
The FIRST Tech Challenge, with its 18-inch-tall robots and smaller playing fields, is growing in popularity as an alternative or a stepping stone to the full robotic competition.
Clubs can get in for $5,000 or so, rather than $10,000 or more, said Kevin Truman, dean of UMKCs School of Computing and Engineering, and a leader in the KC STEM Alliance.
These are small enough you can take them home; you can take them into the garage, he said.
Its just as hard, though, to get them working right.
This years competition required teams to come up with ways to pick up doughnut-shaped color disks and hang them on posts on three-tiered racks at the center of the playing field.
The robots stuttered and stopped, jerked and went. Their accordion arms waggled as they extended to hang disks. They bumped into one another and sometimes blinked out.
But they were out there under the teenagers control, and in wonderful moments they triumphed.
Its amazing to see them out there, having done the engineering ourselves, said 19-year-old Sang Ly, a senior at Kansas Citys Northeast High School.
Their claw for grabbing disks wasnt working quite the way they needed it to, but were making adjustments, he said. We will do better.
Its the way the teams solve their problems that is most gratifying, Klimczak said.
The Red Hot Techie Peppers, a team from Kansas Citys LEARN Science and Math Club, attached a grounding wire to its robot to end that static electricity problem a solution OKelley said was relayed to him from another team with the same problem.
The same cooperation showed in another situation, Klimczak said. This is the first time for this kind of competition in Kansas City, and one team showed up with only the basic parts that all the teams had received, thinking this was a day for building their machine.
Over a rapid couple of hours, Klimczak said, builders from several teams joined in and helped the rookies assemble a working robot in time for the competition so they didnt have to just watch from the sidelines.
That showed one of the core values of FIRST competition, he said. Gracious professionalism.
To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to email@example.com.