Thursday, March 14, 2013

Robots Rock! UCHS Robolions help make STEM ‘The New Cool’

Christine, Marquise, and Jonah working on electronics.

What do you get when you mix a few hundred kids with A+ geek credentials, dedicated adult volunteers, representatives from the country’s top science and technology corporations and universities, sky-high energy, the steady beat of techno pop, and some of the coolest robots you will ever see?  A FIRST Robotics Competition, that’s what!
This weekend (March 15th & 16th, 2013) The University City Robolions, UCHS’s own FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team will compete along with 40 other high school teams from Missouri and surrounding states in the St. Louis Regional FIRST Robotics Championship. You can catch the Robolions and their competitors in action from 9:00 – 4:00 Friday and Saturday, at the Chaifetz Arena on the campus of Saint Louis University.   This event is free and open to the public.
Carl cutting metal.
This will be the fourth regional championship for the Robolions, FRC team 3397. The team was founded in 2010, and has been growing in size and ability ever since.  The twenty-some members of the team spend hundreds of hours over the course of the school year in pursuit of robot perfection.  Beginning with a kickoff in January, teams from around the world (2,548 in 2013) receive a game challenge and a kit of parts.  With the help of coaches and mentors (the Robolions’ mentors are from Boeing) they are given six weeks to design, engineer, build, and program a robot from scratch to perform the tasks required for the game.  This year’s game is called ULTIMATE ASCENT and challenges robots to do things like pick up Frisbees, shoot Frisbees at targets and climb a metal pyramid. Teams also look for opportunities to practice Gracious Professionalism, a key component of the FIRST programs.

Lafayette getting ready to do some programming
The short, intensive build season requires students to work collaboratively and quickly, learning and implementing a wide spectrum of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)-related skills.  From engineering a chassis using CAD programs like Autodesk Inventor, to designing electronics and building circuit boards, to figuring out the mechanics of moving parts and programming the robot to do a series of complex tasks, our students experience intense hands-on learning in a real world environment.    They must master the safe use power tools, learn to fundraise, write grants, and hone their communication skills as they interface with local partners like Ranken Technical College for assistance with things like welding and machining robot parts. In addition to the considerable technical skills involved, students also develop skills in marketing, presentations, interviews, and even some sewing. 
The 2013 competition robot, "Serenity"

At the end of the six-week build season, the robot is “bagged and tagged” and set aside until the regional competition.  The Robolions continue their hard work in the UCHS robotics lab right up until the day of competition, doing things like building a practice robot, polishing their programming, developing marketing materials, and writing on their blog. Experienced team members work with younger students to learn new skills and prepare them for leadership positions next year, and scouts are busy sizing up the competition and considering alliances.
In 2011, the Robolions were the Eastern Missouri Regional champions, along with their alliance partners from Hazelwood Central High School and Camdenton High School, an achievement which secured them a spot in the 2011 FIRST World Championships.  Their goal of course is to make to the 2013 World Championships, which will be held here in St. Louis at the Edward Jones Dome, April 24th – 27th.  Regardless of whether they make it, UCHS robotics students are passionate about science and technology, and are well on the path to becoming tomorrow’s technology leaders.   Come on down to the Chaifetz this weekend and check them out – we guarantee you’ll have a good time!

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology)was founded in 1992 by inventor Dean Kamen, with a vision  “to transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders” and a mission to “inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.”
For more information on FIRST robotics visit and check out The New Cool by Neal Bascomb. For information about local FIRST programs visit  Competitions can be streamed live via the NASA websiteFollow the UCHS Robolions on their blog, The Fourth Law of Robotics or friend them on facebook.

Look for updates on the UCHS Robolions in the weeks to come!

UPDATE:  See competition photos here.

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