John Bluck

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

Phone: 650/604-5026 or 604-9000


NOTE TO EDITORS AND NEWS DIRECTORS: You are invited to attend a mini-robot
‘Botball 2000’ contest from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. PST Saturday, March 18
in the ballroom of the Moffett Training and Conference Center, Bldg. 3, at
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. To go to Ames, take the
Moffett Field exit off Highway 101, drive east to the main gate of Moffett
Federal Airfield for directions to the contest location. Media
representatives may arrive early, if they wish. Please do not use TV
lights during the competitions as these will affect the robot sensors.
U.S. media representatives who are U.S. citizens or have green cards must
have valid picture identification in order to enter Ames.

Teams consisting of two robots each will “do battle” with similar robot
buddy pairs during a high school ‘botball’ tournament at NASA Ames Research
Center, in California’s Silicon Valley, on Saturday afternoon, March 18.
Single-team seeding rounds will begin at 9:00 a.m. PST.

Hundreds of California youths on 26 teams from 19 California high schools
will watch as about 50 student-made robots compete to put the most pingpong
balls into a moveable target within a set time limit during the contests.

“If you talk to the kids, you’ll find that they’ve seen robot wars on TV
during which machines try to destroy one another; we don’t do that in the
botball tournament,” said NASA Ames engineer Terry Grant, who volunteered
to help students and teachers. “But robots are allowed to block each
other without disabling opponents,” he added.

During morning seeding rounds, one team at a time will put balls into the
target. “Starting at 1 p.m. the head-to-head competitions begin; it’s a
double elimination, and so each team will have at least two tries to win,”
Grant said. “After you lose twice, you’re out, and the remaining teams
continue play until one is left,” Grant explained.

Each team has two small robots, one with a bigger computer processor than
the other. The machines will battle on a smooth, 4-foot by 8-foot surface.
Organizers said they designed the event to enthuse high school students
about engineering, science and mathematics.

“The challenge is for the team to design their buddy robots to work
together,” Grant said.

This year’s tournament has about 50% more participants than a similar
contest last year. Schools receive robot kits, each with hundreds of parts
as well as sensors, motors, two battery-powered microcomputer/controllers
and programming software.

“I find it a challenge to support the students and teachers,” Grant
said. “The students learn how to work under pressure because they are only
given about six weeks to prepare for the contest. There’s a great need to
‘turn on’ students to today’s technology, and I see botball as satisfying
that need.”

The botball program teaches students C computer programming as well
as increases their skills and interest in mathematics, science, physics and
design, according to organizers. Teachers attended a three-day hands-on
tutorial to learn how to use the robotic kits.

Students assemble the mini robots with help from teachers and
representatives of the sponsoring organizations. Youths program the robots
to operate on their own. Organizers do not permit remote control of the
robots during the contest. The schools provide desktop computers and
workspace. Assembly of the robots requires no machine tools or electronics
laboratories. The schools will retain the robotic equipment for educational

The program provides hands-on education by connecting students with
companies, government agencies and colleges. The project is co-sponsored
by NASA Ames and the non-profit KISS Institute for Practical Robotics,
University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK. The Institute has encouraged similar
contests in other parts of the country. In addition to NASA Ames, NASA’s
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD; NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, CA; and many other organizations are co-sponsors.

Participating high schools in the local competition include:
American, Fremont, CA; Tennyson, Hayward, CA; Jordon, Los Angeles, CA; La
Canada, La Canada, CA: Menlo-Atherton, Atherton, CA; Freedom, Oakley, CA;
Crystal Springs Uplands, Hillsborough, CA; Castilleja, Palo Alto, CA; Oak
Ridge, El Dorado Hills, CA; Los Altos, Los Altos, CA; Monta Vista,
Cupertino, CA; and Abraham Lincoln, Oak Grove, Gunderson, Independence, Mt.
Pleasant, Santa Teresa, Broadway and Foothill, all in San Jose, CA.

More information about the botball contest can be found on the Internet at
the KISS web site, and on
the Ames web site.