Thursday, January 12, 2006

Domo Arrigato, Mr. Roboto

There is a memorable scene in one of the Star Wars movies that has always stuck with me. It’s where Luke Skywalker and his robotic buddies go shopping for spare parts to repair one of the droids. I can’t remember which pre-quel, sequel or plain old “quel” of George Lucas’ the scene is in, and I’m not sure I’d just rattle-off that book-chapter-and-verse to you if I did.

That would be too freaky.
I know people who can do that, though...

The scene I recall is set in a scrap yard of robotic hardware, if I remember correctly, and it’s a pretty interesting place. (This scene is first-cousin to the famous "Cantina scene" in the very first Star Wars movie, in which every imaginable being in the universe was collected for a pan-galactic sample of diversity.)

But I digress.

National Instruments just completed its second competition for school kids to build robots using LEGO technology. The FIRST LEGO League, created through the partnership of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) and The LEGO Company in 1998, is a program that helps more than 60,000 "yout's" worldwide discover the fun of science and technology by encouraging them to construct fully autonomous robots.

We’re talking about 9-14 year olds doing this stuff, and the winning team for the second year in a row is a group from Texas.

This year's challenge was called "Ocean Odyssey," which tasked teams to address a series of missions geared toward completing marine-related tasks, such as releasing a dolphin or deploying a submarine. Teams competed in the tournament by designing, building and programming robots with LEGO Mindstorms technology.

I remember playing with LEGO’s as a kid, and felt pretty good when I could get a vehicle to just roll smoothly across the floor, or could erect a tower higher than 12” that didn’t fall over.

The story about all this was carried on an Australian website, and of course included links to companies sponsoring the competition…one of which brokers used robots, hence the referral to the Star Wars movies.

And here’s the modern day, precursor to that futuristic scene in a galaxy far, far away.

Undersea United, a group of San Antonio home school students, received the prestigious Director's Award for the second year in a row. These kids not only presented the best technical robot design, but came up with some ideas about solving water resource issues in their local community, and best represented FIRST LEGO League values in its work.

National Instruments will sponsor the team to compete nationally at the FLL World Festival in Atlanta this April.

Wonder if they could fix that vacuum bot we got that’s supposed to clean the carpet without supervision, but keeps knocking over the fish tank?

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