April 13, 2007

ELH Students Win Southern California ‘Botball’ Robotics Tournament

Next stop: Hawaii for national competition

Just two days before their regional robotics competition was to begin, the team of Eastlake High students was confronted with a major challenge. The “brain,” the key part, died to one of their robots. What to do? The students used their resourcefulness to secure a new part from tournament organizers, even driving to the airport to pick it up and then make the necessary repairs.

That kind of stick-to-it-ness was one reason why the Eastlake High students recently took home the Southern California “Botball” overall title.

“The students did an amazing job in working together to succeed in a very competitive environment,” said Sweetwater Board President Arlie Ricasa. “They’ve brought great honor to the district and proved to themselves they can achieve anything they set their minds to.”

More than 300 middle and high school students from across Southern California competed with their ‘Bots’ on a 4’ x 8’ playing field in a fast paced, non-destructive regional tournament at the University of San Diego. In winning the overall Botball title, Eastlake defeated teams from schools such as High Tech High International, La Jolla High and Torrey Pines High.

TOP TEAM: Eastlake High students in a digital electronics class took on a new challenge: robotics. The students won a Southern California ‘Botball’ competition, beating the likes of High Tech High International, La Jolla High and Torrey Pines High. (Left to Right) Students Stan West, Jeffrey Welch, Edgar Beas, William Robertson, teacher Jesus “Leo” Ulloa and student Che Nevarez.

Botball is an educational robotics program created by KISS Institute for Practical Robotics, a nonprofit organization based in Oklahoma. ‘KISS’ stands for the old engineering acronym: ‘Keep It Simple Stupid.’ The Eastlake team took a business approach to its project, utilizing a project manager, logistics leader, marketing leader and a programming leader.

“All the work, everything, was done by the students—that was the awesome part,” said Jesus “Leo” Ulloa, a math and engineering teacher who served as the team’s advisor.

Middle and high school aged students are challenged each year to design, build and program two mobile robots—operated without remote controls—that work together during the regional tournament to score points for the team.

In this year’s game, teams scrambled to prepare their ‘island’ for the destruction caused by a nearby rumbling ‘volcano.’ Robots were program-med to harvest pineapples, compost leaves, place rooftops on houses, and clear away lava (game elements made of small pompoms and pvc pipes). The human team members were unable to assist the robots during the 90-second game. All bots must start, operate and stop by themselves.

For the team from Eastlake, the competition began as a class project in Ulloa’s Digital Electronics class. Ulloa said the students rose to the challenge.

“For a lot of them, they like playing video games,” Ulloa said. “This was a lot like playing a game, they had to figure things out and solve problems in order to win. The difference was they were giving life to a machine. …They also had to work as a team. It was really inspiring just to see them.”

Ulloa praised his student project leaders: Che Nevarez (Project Manager), Stan West (Logistics & Structure), William Robertson (Programming) and Edgar Beas (Marketing).

Each Botball team received robotics equipment (the equipment is reusable for classes to use after the tournament and for extra-curricular activities), software and game information. A regional two-day Professional Development Educator Workshop was held about seven weeks prior to the tournament. Following the workshop, each team set about designing, building and programming the pair of mobile robots, while also documenting the engineering process online.

Ulloa noted the Eastlake team has more hard work ahead.

“We have another challenge. We need money,” Ulloa said. “The competition is in Hawaii and we have to start fundraising again.”

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