Robots to the Rescue—Botball Competition Takes on an Environmental Challenge
This year, two Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD) teams competed in the 2010 Greater D.C. Regional Botball Tournament on April 17 in Fairfax, Virginia. Teams from the District of Columbia, Virginia, Maryland and the surrounding states brought robots to the competition. Out of 52 teams at the tournament, MSSD Team Two took 8th place overall, and Team One took 10th place overall. "This is the best results we have ever had," said MSSD science teacher Mark Tao, who teaches a Botball class and coaches the teams after school with the assistance of Dr. David Snyder, professor of chemistry at Gallaudet.
Botball is a team-oriented robotics competition that engages students by challenging them to create two software-controlled robots that work together to complete the task of each year's Botball game. The challenge this year was to create robots under the leadership of "Botguy" to help rescue ducks and frogs from an oil spill disaster.
"Our mission was to rescue the oily ducks and to send them to the cleaning center," said Botball team member Jacob Fassett. "The ducks had to be corralled (using the robots) into a line on the green strip of grass on the game board with Botguy at the front so he can count the ducks and release them back into the wild. A score table stated how many points we earned."
This is the first year that MSSD fielded two teams. Following a two-day workshop, the Botball teams were given seven weeks to design, build, and program a team of autonomous robots. The team built their own game table model and practiced against each other. "The students learned how to adapt technology, build devices, select strategies and write computer programs to accomplish a challenging mission of environmental cleanup," said Snyder. "Credit goes to the students, their teacher Mark Tao, the Clerc Center, and NASA for making this very special experience possible."
At the tournament, the teams have the opportunity to watch other competitors and learn how to build an even better robot. The MSSD team members are already thinking ahead to next year's competition. "I advise students to join the Botball team and learn "C" computer programming language," said student Xian Huang. "I am sure next year the championship will be ours. I hope, hope, hope!"
MSSD also receives funding from the KISS Institute for Practical Robotics, which helped support the second team. If you would like to see a mock up of the Botball robots coming to the rescue, check out a demonstration video.