John Bluck

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

Phone: 650/604-5026 or 650/604-9000

Lorraine Guerin

East Side Union High School District, San Jose, CA

Phone: 408/347-5040

Stan Smart

Vintage High School, Napa, CA

Phone: 707/253-3601


Two San Francisco Bay Area student robot teams joined with a New Jersey
team to win the FIRST national robotic games championship Saturday, April 8
at Walt Disney World’s EPCOT Center, Orlando, FL, in a competition among
268 robots from high schools across the nation.

Student-made robots formed “alliances” to lift large balls and put them
into a container during the competition, the ninth annual event of its
kind. The winning teams from Foothill High School, San José, CA, and
Vintage High School, Napa, CA, both sponsored by NASA’s Ames Research
Center, located in California’s Silicon Valley, joined with North Brunswick
Township High School, North Brunswick, NJ, to win FIRST’s annual contest.

“This victory marks an exceptional achievement in that no team west of the
Mississippi has won this national event up until now, ” said Mark León of
NASA Ames. “The most remarkable point of this accomplishment is that the
team from Foothill High School is composed of youths at risk.”

NASA worked cooperatively with a non-profit group, “For Inspiration and
Recognition of Science and Technology,” (FIRST), of Manchester, NH, which
organizes the contests.

“I almost fainted when we won,” said Alan Federman, an engineer who works
at NASA Ames, and who is a mentor for the San José team. “In the finals we
were battered in the first match, losing 7 to 11. Our allies took it to
the competition, shutting their scoring down due to incredible engineering
by the New Brunswick students. Their robots’ arm guarded or stole balls
from our opponents,” Federman reported.

Organizers say the overall goal of the robot games is to allow students to
interact with engineers so that youths can see the connection between
classroom instruction and the real world. Each year FIRST develops the
competition and supplies “a problem” and a kit of parts to teams of

“It all came together with an extreme amount of teamwork from the three
teams that formed our alliance,” said science teacher Dave Lockhart, an
advisor to the Napa team. “It was a phenomenal experience; good strategy
and engineering played a big part,” he said.

“It was incredibly exciting,” said Jeff Ota, a former NASA engineer and a
school board member of the East Side Union High School District that
encompasses Foothill High School. Youths and their advisors designed and
constructed their remote-control robots in six weeks. Advisors are often
professional engineers from private industry, government and universities.

“Foothill is a continuation school with limited resources,” Federman said.
The school received $6,000 from NASA Ames and additional funding from the
school district, he explained. “The dozen kids on the team are mostly
Mexican and Asian in heritage. A dedicated team of three engineers, two
from FROG Design, Sunnyvale, CA, and one from NASA (Raytheon) were assisted
by three super teachers,” Federman noted.

“The robot was assembled totally in a classroom,” said Federman. “The only
machine shop tool on campus is a drill press. Some off-site work was done
at FROG Design where aluminum plate for wheels and the extruded aluminum
members for the chassis were cut to size.”

“This is beyond our wildest dreams,” said Federman. “We were about 192nd
in last year’s nationals; we were the number ten seed in this year’s
competition,” he explained.

“This year NASA is proud that we sponsored 108 teams nationwide,” said
León. “The endeavors in which the students engaged for this competition
were truly impressive, and we expect that in the future some of these
students will be the engineers and designers of our robotic planetary
exploration program,” he stated.

FIRST was started in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen to persuade American youth
that engineering and technology are exciting fields. Tom Dyson, telephone
(650/604-6601), and Joseph Hering (650/604-2008), both of Ames, have more
information about the robotics games. These websites also contain
additional details:, and