Tuesday, April 22, 2008

FIRST Atlanta 2008 - National Champs

Atlanta, GA – Thursday 17 April 2008

The Carl Hayden High School Falcon Robotics team landed in Atlanta yesterday. One of our tool crates took a different route and didn't arrive until this morning.

This morning we joined about 350 other high school teams for the International FIRST robotics championship. There are also hundreds of elementary school teams that will be competing in the FIRST Lego League championship. Atlanta is buzzing with roboteers.

Out tardy tool chest delayed us a bit this morning. We uncrated "Virginia's Dream" and modified her ball-picking-up mechanism (or whatever it is called). We want her to be able to pick up a 40 inch diameter ball, carry it, and then shoot it over a 6 ½ foot bridge. In the last competition, we had to align up right in front of the ball to scoop it up. Now we are able to grab it a lot faster and easier.

We have to pass an inspection. One of the requirements so to weigh under 120 pounds. Our robot tipped the scales at 121 lbs. We drilled holes in the last few panels, rounded corners and finally brought her in at 119.8 pounds. She has so many holes she practically whistles when she gets into second gear.

The kids are so well behaved. They are really emoting "gracious professionalism". They realize a lot of people feel they are in contention for the Chairman's Award. Although all of the team works on the projects to make us eligible, only our 3 person team is allowed to make a presentation to the judges at 1:40 tomorrow afternoon. They are prepared.

This competition is truly and international event. There is a group of 50 teachers and students from New Zealand. They are here to experience the event and they will return to "Kiwiland" to form teams and they will have a regional completion there next year. Teacher Mark and student Clinton have been adopted by us and are now a part of our team for the next couple of days. We are learning so much about the land down under.

We also met a team from Israel. The members are from a high school in Haifa. The students are immigrants from Ethiopia. Imagine a group of mostly immigrants who live in Arizona talking with a group of immigrants who live in Israel working on robots in Atlanta. Different accents, customs, and religions don't get n the way of a group of kids trying to figure a way to beat some of the fantastic powerhouse robots that will be on the field tomorrow. We are hoping to spend more time with them tomorrow.

How far our kids have come from 35th ave and Roosevelt.

The Qualifying matches start tomorrow. You can see it live on the internet:

http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/robotics...a-finals-2008/ We are in the Archimedes division and we are team 842.

A few odds and ends from a month ago:

When we were in Los Angeles, our local NPR radio station had a reporter interview members of the team. Here is where you can hear that story: Virginia's Dreamy Robot by Marcos Najera for KJZZ.

When we were competing in Las Vegas, the kids were entertained by Terry Fator, the ventriloquist who won the million dollars on America's got Talent Show. One act of his act was on T.V. He was fantastic: http://www.nbc.com/Americas_Got_Talent/video/#mea=133032

We will send a report tomorrow

Atlanta -- Friday, April 18, 2008

The day begins early with cereal for all in the hotel room. We head out to the Georgia Dome for the opening ceremonies. Dean Kamen is inspiring and then introduces a guest speaker, President George Bush (the father) Wow! We were impressed. Yet another moment our kids will never forget.

We were scheduled for the fifth matchin the morning. After the opening cerimonies, the drive team went back to the pit and loaded our robot on the cart and headed for the ¼ mile pathway/tunnel to the arena. Traffic Jam. Literally 100 4 person teams and their robot are lined up in a gridlock. –It took about a half hour for Jerry, Pablo, Will and Ingrid towork teir way up the line only to see our match start without us. Everyone was sorry, but it counted as a match disqualification for us. We were all disappointed, but stayed optimistic.

The second match of the day for us found us without one of our allies so it was a 3 vs 2 match. Our partner tipped over early in the match and we lost. We also lost our third match playing against one of the "superbots".

But then the day improved dramatically.

To be considered for the Chairman's Award, a team has to become a model program: inspiring students everywhere in math, science, engineering and technology. We form grade school teams, high school teams. We give presentation and demonstrations to anyone, anywhere. The kids are inspirational. They have to submit a report to FIRST which is passed on to the judges. Then the kids have to prepare a 5 minute presentation and then the judges ask questions for 5 minutes. Only Regional Chairman winners competed for this most prestigious award at the Championship, so there are 41 other highly regarded teams in the running.

Early on, we had a few strategies we were going to try. Instead of a formal report, we submitted our facts as a diary from a fictional girl in the future describing her father's activities at Carl Hayden High School. We wanted the judges to remember something unique. http://www.phxhs.k12.az.us/education/components/scrapbook/default.php?sectiondetailid=56173&pagecat=379

For the presentation, we felt there was too little time to build a complete case, and since the judges had all the facts from our written submission anyway, we would hit a couple of our important, unique highlights and spend some time with each of the three students, president Nile, Leidy and Ingrid would tell an andidote on how FIRST has affected themselves. We felt they needed to be believable strike an emotional chord with the judges.

They have been practicing their presentation for 2 months in front of the toughest: Fredi and myself. They always were a little stiff as if they were trying to recite a memorized speech (which it was). We kept trying to get them to have more personality and honest emotion into their performance.

Five minutes before intering the judging room, they were calm but very aware of how important the next few minutes were going to be for them. They knew their stuff and had their props. They just had to be themselves and be confident.

They were called in and we had to wait outside. Almost fifteen minutes passed before they returned – smiling!

"How did it go?"

"They cried."


"When Ingrid got to the part of her talk where she says how she never thought engineering was for women, but working with Karen opened her mind to all the possibilities… Ingrid's voice quivered and she started to tear and in a few moments even the judges (2 women and a man) started to tear up along with Leidy."


There were several questions that the Falcons answered very well and the judges commented on how the whole team seems to have a passion for the work they are doing.

Anyway, whether the teams is rewarded with a trophy or not, they have done one world class job and we all are so proud of them!

Mable and I were walking up and down the pit area this afternoon (all 360 teams!) when I spotted a judge I recognized, Steve Wozniack, the co founder of Apple and the first real microcomputer! I asked Mable if she wanted to go up to him and ask if he would pose with here for a picture. He wound up talking to her for 10 minutes telling her tales of how he became interested in computers, why the Apple II was the first color computer, the first to draw pixels, etc. She asked what projects he was working on now and they chatted like old friends. Mable and the Woz! She will be telling this sory to her children and grandchildren and will have the pictures to prove it!

The day's competition ended with a couple of wins and there is at least one high ranked team that is seriously considering us as an ally because of our strong defense capabilities and our ability to score well. We have 2 more matches tomorrow morning. If we are picked as ally, we could do well in the Archimedes elimination matches. The winning ally of our division and the winners of the other three division will compete for the International Championship in the afternoon. Well, anyway, there is a slight possibility. At any rate, all of us are hourly enjoying ourselves.

Then there will be the awards.

We just finished surprising Will with a birthday cake. A fitting way to end the evening.

Fredi will be posting pictures at:

Atlanta – Sunday, April 20, 2008

"I dream that one day they will no longer be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." proclaimed Atlanta's favorite son, Dr. Martin Luther King. Yesterday afternoon in Atlanta, our kids from Carl Hayden High School's Falcon Robotics team were awarded the highest international engineering honor that can be bestowed upon a high school team: the Chairman's Award. We are celebrating seven years, not of robot building, but how our students have been inspiring others in local neighborhoods (and some quite distant) the hard fun of engineering; performing hundreds upon hundreds of presentations to kindergarteners, governors, civic groups and influencing the culture of our neighborhood, state, country and, perhaps, the world. Our team has been proclaimed a model for those who wish to positively affect their world.

The day began with two losses in the robot competition which placed us near the bottom of our 80 team division. However, a team from Las Vegas, which was ranked 4th, chose us as one of their partners in the 3 vs 3 elimination rounds. They were very aware of our defensive capabilities and being able to score points when needed. They envisioned an alliance of two high scoring robots with a strong defensive robot. We were awesome. We won the quarter final matches and the semi final matches and were finally defeated in the divisional championship matches in a final tie-breaking third round. We were awarded the silver medal.

The Chairman's award was presented to us in front of the tens of thousands in the audience. There was untold number watching the event on the internet and the NASA cable channel. Our whole team then sat on the stage with Dean Kamen, Woody Flowers and the president and CEO of FIRST to watch the remaining robot matches and awards.

The Chairman's Award brings with it a $10,000 scholarship and the kids will decide who on our team will receive it. All the previous year's Chairman teams have been invited to the White House to meet the President and we hope that we will be invited too. We have also been loaned professional video equipment to document our activities and will be working with directors to produce a visual document about our "culture changing" efforts.

We ended the evening at Centennial park which was reserved for the FIRST teams. There we ate, played and celebrated with 300 other teams of exciting, inspiring young people who will change our world.

Our robot this year is named "Virginia's DREAM". We christened her with that name, aware that it was a reference to Dr. King and also as a reference to the DREAM Act, legislation that is currently stalled in the U.S. Congress. The new law would create a route for young people to become legal residents in the United States, the only home they know. Hard working, moral young students who were illegally transplanted into the U.S. as children and who graduate from high school and are willing to pursue college degrees or serve in the armed forces would be valued rather than persecuted. Many of the best students in the U.S., who currently have to live in the shadows, fearing immediate deportation (like Virginia) could contribute and openly be the positive role models to their peers and demonstrate that we judge people by the content of their character rather than their pedigree.

Today the kids will sleep late and then we will do some sightseeing in this historic southern city. Tomorrow we fly back to Phoenix and start preparing for our next event: the National Underwater Robotics Competition (NURC) which we host with Chandler High School and Arizona State University in June.

Here are the people who traveled with us to Atlanta:
Teachers: Fredi Lajvardi, Jim Hagen, Debbie Cameron and Allan Cameron.
Our super mentors: Jerry Little, Karen Suhm and David Medaros
Parents: Mario and Ruby Balboa
Alumnus: Cristian Arcega
Adopted Kiwi friends" Mark and Clinton

Brittney Childers
David Olivares
Eduardo Fernandez
Fernando Santillan
Hugo Ceballos
Ingrid Tay
John Harris
Judith Beltran
Kathy Garcia
Kelly Morris
Leidy Robledo
Luis Garcia
Mabel Munoz
Mary Cuevas
Michael Brown
Michael Morris
Nilo Thomas
Norma Irigoyen
Pablo Santillan
Sarah Balboa
Yuliana Flores
Will Freer

None of this would happen without the support and encouragement of our business partners:

Arthur M. Blank Foundation
Science Foundation Arizona
Wells Fargo
Southwest Fastener


We also are so grateful for the trust and forbearance of parents, teachers and administrators who drive, spend, approve, and tolerate our sometimes irregular requests.

We have many friends who work behind the scenes for us: Steve Sanghi, Marcos Garcia-Acosta, Carmen Cornejo, Josh Davis, Shawna Fletcher, Greg Harrison, Aida Rodriguez, David Lujan, Dayna Steele, Tom Heller and Craig Pletenik.

We also have so many supporters who have adopted us. This email list which was originally intended for the kid's parents when we travel, has grown to over 6oo recipients. I read your emails aloud to the kids and I think they realize more than most, how connected all the people in the world truly are. Thank you.

Fredi, Jim and the kids return to school. My wife and I are going camping for a few days. Then we will return to begin the new season of "changing the culture". Keep us in mind if your group needs some guest speakers. Fredi and I and the kids have a new chapter to present in the Falcon Robotics story.

Monday, April 02, 2007

LasVegas FIRST Regional

Friday, March 30, 2007 – Las Vegas

The Carl Hayden Robotics club is in Las Vegas for the FIRST Las Vegas Regional competition. We left Phoenix late Wednesday night and drove in a caravan of three school vans, 1 pickup truck and 2 cars. A lot of us have ham radio licenses and we use the radios to play Trivia Pursuit among the vehicles. I think I’m the only one who knew the original McDonald’s hamburgers were 15 cents. I don’t know if I’m proud of knowing that or not, but I am very proud that so many students have earned their FCC licenses.

Yesterday we unpacked our robot which had to be shipped directly from our competition in San Diego. Teams are not allowed to work on their ‘bots between competitions. Little Jerry was in fine shape and we sailed through inspection and we played in the days’ practice rounds.

For the first 15 seconds of a game the robots run autonomously. No driver intervention, just the robot running on its internal program. Not a lot of robots do anything in the first 15 seconds. In San Diego, we had a program that would send Little Jerry half way across the field. We decided to reprogram him to go three fourths of the way across the field and make a 90 turn and proceed to bump into any opposing robots that were attempting to score points. It had to be accomplished in 5 seconds if we wanted to be effective.

Our robot has a second high speed gear, so we set the program to run straight for 3 seconds in high gear. So at the next practice round, Jerry shot across the field and slammed into the far wall at high speed. It was the most excitement the crowd had seen all day. It broke Jerry’s tube lifter, but we replaced it in a few minutes. The officials warned us not to let it happen again.

For the next practice, we had Jerry’s forward run shortened, but he still crossed the field and ran into another robot. No damage, but the officials told us that if it happened again we would be disqualified for the rest of the event. We have decided to forget improving our autonomous high speed run, at least in Las Vegas.

Our plans are to play more defense than we did in San Diego. After the wall crashing, I know a lot of teams will be a little wary of us.

We were told that the Las Vegas competition will be webcast:
Click on the Las Vegas webcast link after 9am (MST, PDT) Friday and it will be active again 9am Saturday.

Saturday, March 31, 2007 – Las Vegas Day 2

Three wins, three losses and a tie. We are ranked 32 in a field of 51 teams. We have two more seeding matches to play later this morning.

The last match of the day was our best. We were allied with 2 robots that can’t score with the tubes. Our opponents would be two robots who probably would have difficulty scoring and one that could run up a lot of points. We decided that we would play a totally defensive game and try to have one of our robots climb our ramp at the end. Our opponents also had a ramp, but we felt they would have difficulty with a robot climbing it. The game went exactly as we wished. You can view the game here:
http://www.soap.circuitrunners.com/2007/movies/nv/ and then click on nv_57.wmv.

One of our losses and our tie was the result of human error. We finished with the high score, but we received a 10 point penalty which changed the outcome of the game. One penalty was an alliance player stepping outside of the player’s box and the other was our fault: our robot after deploying our ramp touched the “foul line”. We had a chain come off of one wheel and it made it difficult for our driver to steer.

One of the judges is Steve Wozniack, cofounder of Apple, and really the engineer of the first popular home computer. He spent time in our pit area talking to the kids who were ”on duty” there. What a thrill!

One student, Kelly, has been wearing the Flacon mascot costume throughout the San Diego and Las Vegas competition. Eight hours a day in the suit, she dances, jumps and keeps the crowd pumped up. It gets really hot in the feather suit and we keep reminding her to drink water and she does, but she really never takes a break. Everyone finds a job on the team and it’s exciting to see how they go way beyond expectations.

Sunday, April 01, 2007 – Phoenix

We had quite a day in Vegas.

We tied one and lost one of our Saturday morning seeding matches. Penalties by our alliance played a part- again. We wound up ranked 34 out of 51 teams. Not very promising. However, the third ranked team picked us as an ally for the regional championship matches. They had watched our strong defense and felt a good defender would compliment their scoring robot.

To move on to the semi finals, an alliance has to defeat the opposing alliance twice. In our first match, we were told to play offence and we did. Our side lost 16 – 84. Strategy was changed and we played defense in the second match and the outcome was a lot better: we won 40-32 and there was a lot of very tough bumping and pushing going on. In the final tie breaker, Our robot drivers played a perfect game. The whole alliance was chanting, “Jerry, Jerry…”. It looked like we won 16-2 and then the announcer said there were some penalties. One of our alliance robots was assessed two ten point penalties so the final score was 0-2 and we were finished for the day.

During the day, several judges returned to the pits and talked to the kids, including the “Woz”. We were beginning to think maybe we would receive one of the safety awards or a judges award. We were shocked at the awards ceremony to be presented with the Engineering Inspiration Award, the second highest award (after the Chairman’s Award. Robot championship is the 3rd highest). The kids were ecstatic.

One of the criteria for the award is the team’s effect on our school and community. Well, the kids have been very active and they are making a big difference on campus, community and the state of Arizona with all their public speaking/presentations and congressional lobbying.

One incident that the judges liked was the story about the cross country team running to the AZ regional and watching about an hour of play. I just found out from one of the kids that when the cross country boys ran back to school, the coach had seen them on the webcast from the venue. He reprimanded them and had them do pushups. We decided that we have to do something for the X-country guys. The coach is a good guy, but we will have to think of something fun for him too!

In ten days we head off to Atlanta for the International championships. We hope our robot does well, but we have our eye on the top award, the Chairman’s award.

Pictures of our Las Vegas trip at the school page.



Sunday, March 25, 2007

FIRST San Diego 2007

Thursday March 22, 2007 – San Diego

We left Carl Hayden High School at midnight and drove a dozen girls, Fredi, Jim Haugen and my self along with my wife and mentors Jerry and Karen and arrived at the Ipayone Sports Center at 8 am as the doors opened to let teams in to unpack their robots.

This is the first time we have fielded an “all girls” team and the women are taking charge! Angelica is the driver with Yvette the copilot. Cynthia is the human player on the field and Karen is the coach and forth member on the field.

While there are only four team members on the field, ther rest of the team are assigned pit boss, safety officer, power woman (battery management), electrical repairs, mechanical systems, scouting, strategy, etc. They will all be very busy the next two days.

During robot inspection, one inspector spent a lot of time quizzing the girls and “teaching them”. Fredi was going nuts! “We have never had anyone lecture like that before! The guy is just showing off for the girls. Why doesn’t he inspect the robot and let us fix any deficiencies?” I keep catching myself saying “the Carl Hayden girls team” instead of the Carl Hayden team. This is going to be quite a weekend of the subtle sexism that makes it so hard for some women to feel comfortable in the engineering fields.

We ate dinner at the hotel’s IHOP. Haven’t had time for the beach yet, maybe this evening.

Fredi posted pictures athttp://www.phxhs.k12.az.us/education/components/scrapbook/default.php?sectiondetailid=50067&pagecat=313

Friday March 23, 2007 – San Diego

We won two matches and lost six. There will be 3 more seeding matches tomorrow. Around noon, the top 8 seeded teams will pick two other teams to form 8 3-robot alliances. So our only hope to be in the quarter finals is to be picked by another team. So our strategy for tomorrow is to do what we do best – defense. Hopefully, we will be noticed by a team looking to shut down their opposition and will pick the gutsy Falcon team.

Mary Steward is a lady who lives in L.A. and drove down with a friend and young son to meet us. She watched a few matches, including one where our driver, Angelica, was pretty much responsible for the win. Then she spent a lot of time talking to the students in the pit area. Our sophomore girls wanted to know how we knew her and I told them about these emails and that there are a lot of people following their journey. They are amazed that total strangers are interested in them.

Dayna Steele, who is a friend of ours in Texas, has a web site “Smart Girls Rock – because the future has curves” http://www.smartgirlsrock.com/ and I’ve been honored as an Honorary Smart Girl. Hmmmm?

I think the experiment of leaving the boys at school is producing some positive results. The girls have stepped up and were working on repairs, driving, scouting, talking to the judges and are becoming a cohesive team. While they lack experience in some of the skills, I think they are ready to be more assertive and will be challenging the boys for more active positions on the team. We’ll see next week when we compete in Las Vegas.

This evening the FIRST team social was at the Space and Aeronautics museum. My cousin met us there and we gawked and talked and had a great time.

As we were leaving, Marina, one of the girls who wrote the Chairman’s entry, and is a senior said, “I’m going to miss this.” I started in on how she can get involved in projects in college that are just as exciting if she throws herself into it with as much enthusiasm as…” and she interrupted me and said, “No. I’ll miss all you guys.” So here is a young lady who came from Mexico, learned English, does very well in high school, mentors at the junior high school, joins the robotics team, contributes to the region’s championship essay, has been accepted into ASU’s Engineering College and credits the people she has met with her good fortune. The FIRST program has done a lot for our kids.

We still haven’t gone to the beach. We plan on stopping tomorrow when the San Diego FIRST Regional concludes and watch the sun set and have a seafood dinner.

Day two pictures at


Sunday, March 25, 2007 – Phoenix, AZ

The Falcon Robotics “Chicas – Leave the Boys at Home” tour is over. It was an experience none of us will ever forget.

We knew going into Saturday’s matches, that with 2 wins and 5 loses, that even if we won the remaining three matches, we would probably not be picked by one of the top eight teams to be in their three-team alliance. So we changed our goals to playing defense. Even if we lose, if we can keep the opponents score low, we will demonstrate our value to the choosing teams.

The driving team, coach Karen, Angelica, Cynthia, and Yvette had a fantastic time! They were relaxed and effective. They our ran, out pushed, and in one match, toppled another robot. Our robot, “Little Jerry”, was built strong and fast. We were playing “our game”. The women now had battle driving experience and were cool and relaxed – and happy, even though our opponents out scored us. As a result, we had to pack up after the seeding matches, but the day was a very positive one for us.

We went to Mission Bay beach about 4 pm. Half of the girls had never seen the ocean before. We parked, walked to the strand, took off our shoes and socks and walked doing to the water. (“Oh, the sand feels so soft.”) You know how it goes: first just the toes, then just up to the rolled up cuffs, then, oops now that the cuffs are wet, just go in as far as the knees… until they are completely soaked, teasing the breakers and laughing, screaming and hanging on to each other as kids have been doing for 10s of thousands of years.

My wife Deb brought kites and bubble makers. We were all little kids again. Karen, inventor and engineer, is redesigning the “fish kite” to make it fly better. Fredi and I are snapping pictures, and the kids are having an afternoon they will never forget. Someday they will bring their children to the beach and I bet they will tell them the story of this day.

Fredi’s pictures:


We ate at Joe’s Crab Shack and then hopped into the vans for the return trip. Fredi and fellow teacher, Jim, had to drive the whole way without relief. We stopped for a half hour nap and arrived at Carl Hayden at 6 am.

Overall, a most successful experiment. We worked on the robot and made many improvements on it. The girls’ skills have made a quantitative leap. During the whole weekend there is a lot of talking, (“How did you meet your spouse?” “What was the hardest part about going to college”. “How did you know what your major was going to be?”) You can see the ladies trying on different possible roles. They are changing their cultural expectations. I don’t think they will settle for doing what is expected of them. We’ll see.

Late next Wednesday night, we take the coed team to the Las Vegas FIRST regional. The boys graciously acquiesced to standing down this weekend, but the Las Vegas will be our last chance to prepare for the International Championship in Atlanta and we have a far stronger robot and team.

Monday, March 05, 2007

FIRST Arizona 2007

March 5, 2007 - Carl Hayden High School

Although it’s been seven months since we have sent out an “update”, we have been busy. http://falconrobotics.blogspot.com/ The kids on the robotics team coached almost a dozen elementary and junior high school Lego Robotics teams and hosted the Arizona FIRST Lego Robotics Competition in December. Seventy teams and even the Governor attended. They also held a VEX robotics competition for high schools in the state. Promoting science, technology and engineering activities – thats what they do.

This year’s FIRST Robotics competition was unveiled January 6th. We had six weeks to build this year’s robot for the Rack and Roll game. We won’t see our robot “Little Jerry: until this Thursday, Practice and Inspection day, at the Veteran’s Coliseum in Phoenix Arizona. Friday and Saturday, March 9th and 10th, we compete with 33 other high school teams in the state’s biggest, most exciting display of teenage determination, innovation, and positive gracious professionalism/ http://www.usfirst.org/uploadedfiles/community/frc/events/2007_AZ_Agenda.pdf

This year we have made an organized effort to invite lawmakers to attend. Over a dozen legislators are expected to show up this week to see what all the excitement is about. The Falcons have learned how to apply their civics lessons into civic action. That’s what I love about the Robotics Club: It’s real, applied education that is really having a profound effect, not only on the students, but on our culture.

While we hope to do very well in the competition, but the real recognition the kids seek is the Chairman’s Award:

FIRST’s most prestigious award, it honors the team judged to have created the best partnership effort among team participants, and to have best exemplified the true meaning of FIRST. The award helps keep the central focus of the FIRST Robotics Competition on the goal of inspiring greater levels of respect and honor for science and technology.”

Part of the submission process is a 10,000 character paper describing the robotics program’s impact on students and culture. The submission can be read at:

I’m really proud to be a part of their lives. They really get “the big picture”. Here are young people who are libel “disadvantaged” teaching the rest of us how rich they are and trying to spur the educational system to support extracurricular academic activities on par with the extracurricular entertainment activities.

After the Arizona competition, thanks to financial support from the Arthur M. Blank Foundation, Honeywell, Intel, Wells Fargo, Phelps Dodge and a dozen small community businesses, we will also be competing at:

March 22-24: San Diego
March 29-31: Las Vegas

April 12-14: Atlanta (Championship)

The San Diego date will be unusual. Since girls seem to shy away (or is it pushed away?) from the physical building of the robot, this year we will be taking just the female roboteers to the California event. Fredi and I will just be “bumps on a log” while Karen, our physicist mentor, and my wife assume the adult leadership.

All of these events are free to the public and we would love to meet our supporters, if you are I the area on those dates.

For all those who rooted for the four boys in Wired Magazine “La Vida Robot”:


Oscar is a junior at ASU studying mechanical engineering (also president and wheeler-dealer for the university’s underwater ROV team); Luis is becoming a Cordon Bleu chef at Scottsdale Culinary Arts school; Cristian is a freshman at ASU’s engineering college; and Lorenzo is a freshman at Phoenix Community College.

Over the next few weeks, we will try to send updates on this year’s competitions and some of the stories about some of the kids.

Phoenix – March 9, 2007, 3:45 a.m.

The Falcon Robotics team spent yesterday at the Coliseum tweaking our robot, Jerry, going through the inspection process and getting in a few practice matches. We are ready.

This year, the team members wrote emails and letters to every one of our state and federal legislators inviting them to attend the competition. We really believe that the FIRST engineering competitions are so important that decision makers need to see what can be done to improve the technical competency of our culture.

Our favorite city councilman and long time booster, showed up at 10 am. He is leaving for Washington and could only come on Thursday. Just as we shake hands, my cell phone rings. It’s the local ABC station and they want to do an early morning live remote.

Marina is a senior and on the Chairman’s subcommittee (she was one of the writers for our submission: http://www.phxhs.k12.az.us/education/components/scrapbook/default.php?sectiondetailid=50067&pagecat=291) She took over escorting Councilman Simplot, touring the pit area and introducing him to other teams and officials and watching a practice match. By the time I was finished running around, it was time for Tom to leave. I apologized for ditching him like that, but he had a better time with knowledgeable Marina than he would have had with me. You know, it is true. Marina is a very intelligent, personable young lady. She just recently decided to switch her college plans from sociology to engineering because she enjoys the projects so much and the future employment prospects seem much better. She may still become a social worker, but with an engineering background. Exposing young people to the creative, fun, time consuming side of science, math and engineering really opens their eyes!

I’ll add to this later. Fredi Lajvardi, Marina, Daniel, Cynthia, Will, Adam, Yvette, Marcos and Pablo have to be on the field at 5 a.m. for the TV crew. The rest of our team arrives at 8 and then the competitions begin.

Same day – 8:00 p.m.

What a day! We won four matches, lost one and tied one! We are in third place. We will play two more matches tomorrow morning and then the quarter finals – semi finals and AZ championship rounds will be placed.

At the last minute, the NASA web site webcast the Phoenix games live. They will be live Saturday also:


Scroll down to Phoenix

Daniel (our club president and junior), Angelica (VP and senior) and Cynthia (senior) gave our Chairman’s award to the judges today. They felt they did very well (no observers allowed) and I know they did their best. They have been practicing almost non stop for the last two weeks.

We were visited by a few state legislators and several TV stations. Daniel looks into the camera and can roll out a sound bite with the best of them. So can Angelica, but she can carry the message in Spanish. They kids are becoming real PR pros. They are so natural and well spoken, it even impresses me. These are the same kids, who a few months ago, would have done anything to avoid public speaking.

We have had a few minor problems with the robot, but a few minutes in the pit is all it takes to get it ready for the next match. Our robot is named Jerry in honor of our mentor Jerry Little who, with his wife, Karen, woks with us on Mondays. If you see the NASA video, Jerry is also the adult competition coach on the field. Anyway, when the announcers introduce the team at the beginning of the match, our kids in the stands start chanting “Jerry, Jerry, Jerry…” and, of course everyone else thinks they are cheering the robot. They are cheering Jerry the man. The kids really love the guy. One of the greatest strengths of the FIRST robotics program is mixing caring, intelligent, professional adults with students. They don’t “teach”; they work with them. They become the role models that most kids never really see or experience.

We are hoping for the best tomorrow.

Phoenix - March 10, 2007

They did it! Once again, the kids were awarded the Arizona FIRST Chairman Award. This means we will be in the running for the National Chairman award in Atlanta in April.

Our robot won the two matches in this morning’s seeding matches and we were ranked third which meant we had third pick for our ally in the championship rounds. We picked the team from Buena Vista High School in Sierra Vista, AZ. We helped them a bit last year when they first started. After all the other teams picked, we were able to select the third team that would form our alliance.

Long story short: we won our quarter finals and our semi finals and we lasted until a tie-breaker round in the final match and when came up short. Our alliance came in second over all, which is higher than we have ever ended in a FIRST competition. The kids were a little disappointed, but not too much. When we were announced as the Chairman’s winner, there were quite a few tears of joy being shed.

A neat memory from this weekend:

Yesterday afternoon, during matches, I was sitting in the stands where our team and some of their family members were watching the matches. In came a group of kids wearing tank top undershirts and looking kind of unkempt. I’m thinking that maybe I should have announced at school that there is a “dress code” at the competition. Then I recognized that the kids were the Carl Hayden cross county team. They ran the five miles from school, sat and watched a couple of matches, including one of ours, then trotted off to return to campus! Ahh, that’s evidence of “changing the culture.”

Monday, Fredi and I and some of the kids will be at Arizona State University as keynote speakers for the Microcomputer in Education Conference. http://mec.asu.edu/2007/keynotes.htm

While on spring break, the girls on our team are preparing for the San Diego FIRST regional. Angelica asked if we would have time to stop at the beach. She has never seen the ocean. A lot of the girls haven’t seen the ocean. There will be time.

Once again, thank you everyone.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

2006 ROV Competiton -- Houston

Thursday Morning, June 22, 2006 -- 35,000 feet above New Mexico

The Carl Hayden Robotics team is on our way to the Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas for the 5th annual MATE Underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) competition. This is our third year in the university division. In 2004, the kids beat everyone and earned the 1st place trophy. Last year we placed third. Hopefully, the kids will do as well in the competition as they have been doing in practice.

Of the 50 or so students who are in the Robotics Club, we are only taking six with us. The MATE competitions only allow 6 team members to operate, demonstrate and represent the team. We are taking two ROVs, Ipski-Pipski and Otis. On this trip or roster is:
Annalisa – outgoing club president and Ipski’s co-driver. She has just graduated and will be attending Arizona State University (ASU) in the fall- Business & technology major. She has kept us organized and on task for the last two years.

Pablo – is a junior and is Ipski-Pipski’s driver. Pablo is beginning his third year in the club and has become the “guy who gets things done, no mater what”. Summer vacation began three weeks ago, yet Pablo has been at school every day (except Sundays) working on the ROV. He’s very quite but has more frequently shows an outgoing charm when he is in public.

Daniel – a junior and our new president. Daniel is a “hard charger” academically. He is taking college courses while in high school and is certainly college bound. Daniel is Otis’s codriver.

Cristian – of “La Vida Robot” fame is Otis’s driver. Like Annalisa, he has graduated and will be off to ASU in the fall in the Ira Fulton College of Engineering. His self-assured, quite intellect has been a tremendous asset to our team and he has been an inspiration to younger students.

Lorenzo – also of “La Vida Robot” notoriety is also moving on to college. Readers of Wired magazine sent in contributions and all the four kids in that story will be in college. Lorenzo will start out at the local community college. Lorenzo will be manning Otis’s tether. While in the water, the ROV is connected to the surface with a 100 foot collection of umbilical cords. It’s Lorenzo job to let out and bring in the cable as the ROV operates 40 feet below the surface.

Adam – a senior. Adam is new to our team. We were in desperate need of a programmer and Adam has taken two ears of programming at Carl Hayden and he was willing to commit to the hundreds and hundreds of hours it takes to complete one of these projects. During competition, he is Ipski’s tether man.

Fredi and myself are the main teacher/sponsors. We also have my wife and math teacher Debbie as female chaperone. Jim is a fellow Carl Hayden teacher and also Daniel’s dad. Jim will be doing a lot of our videotaping. Out two fantastic mentors will fly in early tomorrow, Karen and Jerry. Karen, a physicist, and her architect husband, Jerry, adopted our team two years ago and have been fantastic working and inspiring the kids. One of the reasons that we can compete successfully with universities is because our kids are exposed to top talent in the engineering community.

Tomorrow morning we will go to the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at the Johnson Space Center. It’s a huge in door crystal clear 40-foot deep pool as large as a football field. Underwater they have mockups of spacecraft and space station modules where EVA-suited astronauts practice tasks while “Floating in space”. We will get to test our ROVs in the pool and go through technical inspection and we should be ready for Saturday’s event.

Saturday the kids will do a presentation about our ROV and its mission to a panel of judges. Later in the day, they will put our ROV’s in the water for the half hour mission. We also will put up a poster display that will be judged. All the teams will complete their missions by Sunday noon and the winners are announced Sunday evening.

All in all, we are all excited and anxious to do our best against the top colleges and universities. It just all seems so amazing that a high school in the “hood” is in this level of competition!

Friday Evening, June 23, 2006 – Houston, Texas

This morning we went to the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL) at the Johnson Space Center. Within the large building is a huge crystal clear 40 foot deep pool of water. We will be competing tomorrow amid full size space station modules. It’s such a chilling feeling to be amid all of the high tech props that the astronauts work with.
This year’s mission requires picking up a “probe” (really a 10 inch ling PVC pipe) that has a long rope attached to it. We have to string it through 4 waypoints and end up at a structure on the floor of the pool. We also have to bring a box from the surface down to this structure and insert it into the cabinet on the floor. Then we insert the probe into the side of the box. There is another probe on the floor that we have to pick up and insert in the pool.

We decided a few months ago, to build two ROVs to accomplish the mission. Otis is responsible for bringing the box down and inserting in the cabinet and opening a door on the side.

At the same time, “Ipski-Pipski” is responsible for retrieving the probe, stringing the rope through the 4 way points and inserting the probes in the cabinet. The six operators have been practicing in a 10 foot deep pool in Phoenix. Today we got to practice in the 40 foot NBL pool. We discovered two problems with Otis at the greater depth and pressure. Our big ROV sank too fast, but that was easily fixed by adding more buoyant material to it.
(Videos of our practice at Phoenix:
http://www.phxhs.k12.az.us/education/components/scrapbook/default.php?sectiondetailid=42960&pagecat=207 )
Otis has three cameras so Daniel and Annalisa can see what they are doing under the surface. One of the camera housings developed a small leak which shorted out the camera. Late this afternoon, we bought a replacement camera at Frys and new PVC parts for the housing at Home Depot. Cristian will be up an extra hour or two tonight fabricating the replacement. All-in-all we feel we are in great shape for tomorrow’s competition. We have a chance of completing all the tasks well under the allotted 30 minute time limit.

Last year we met Dayna Steele and her husband Charlie Justiz. Once again they invited us to their home for pizza and a swim and to introduce us to a few of their relatives and friends, including astronauts!! We all now have autographed pictures of Pamela Melroy (“We call her Pam) who is has been to space twice and will be the commander of an upcoming flight (STS-120). Imagine, Carl Hayden High School students talking technology with astronauts over pizza and soft drinks.

Dayna and Charlie and friends are fantastic people. The whole point of our robotics program is not to build machines; not even to educate students, but rather to change our culture. We want the kids exposed to people who are smart, exciting, moral and interesting. People who have educated themselves and enjoy their work. Our kids now have role models who truly care for them. Most kids, when immersed in a culture that appreciates and encourages education, aspire to do the same. Once they want to learn and see what they are capable of, there’s no holding them back.

It’s late Friday and the kids are practicing their oral presentation. They are impressive. Tomorrow morning the six students will do their oral presentation in front of the judges and the ROVs will perform in water in the afternoon. Results and awards will be Sunday night. Wish us luck!

Saturday, June 24, 2006, 1pm

This morning the team presented our ROV program to a panel of three judges. The six members spent 15 minutes with their presentation and another 15 in a Q & A session. Only two teacher/adults were allowed in the room with them. In previous years, we deliberately did not have any of our adults attend because we felt our presence would be of no help and possible add tension in the room. Besides, we are confident in the students’ preparation.

This year, however, Fredi and Karen monitored the presentation/interview. Last year a judge was especially harsh on one of the kids, asking Cindy, our newest member, what the two wavelengths of the laser light in the fiber optics were. Cindy is a fantastic, intelligent woman, but she is not our “science officer”. She explained how two different colors were used, one for two-way data transfer and the other signal for 2 video signals. He would not let Cristian answer and really pressed Cindy to admit she did not know. I doubt there were very few university students who could have answered the question. The rules stated that every member should have a general understanding of the principle involved, but very technical questions could be answered by the team expert. We wanted to witness this year’s session to see if something like that happened again.

It was a very fair interview. The judges asked probing questions to see the depth of the kid’s knowledge, but they did it in a very professional manner. All-in-all, Fredi, Karen and the kids felt they did well, but they were not perfect. There is a possible 70 points for the interview that goes toward the total competition score.

In two hours, we will perform the underwater missions. That is worth 170 points and there are bonus points possible for early completion. We replaced our faulty camera, however, it has not been tested in the water. If it fails to work when it goes to the bottom, Otis should still be able to complete his tasks with the renaining two on board. We are all trying to look calm, but I can tell all of us are feeling the little scary whine that starts building before a major performance. This is when the kids practice and training will take over.

11 pm

What a great day. 10 of the 16 “Explorer teams ran their missions this afternoon. Six of them did not earn any points. Their ROV’s simply sank to the bottom and were dead in the water. Two teams completed the entire missions and we were one of them!
The team that performed ahead of us, a university from eastern Canada, did all the tasks and received the 170 points. They finished with 15 minutes remaining so they also have a 15 point bonus. That meant that we would have to finish all the tasks within 15 minutes if we wanted the forst place rank.

As the timer began, Otis descended with the module that had to be inserted into the cabinet. Daniel and Cristian guided the ROV into the target area and quickly completed their first assignment. They then opened the door in record time.
At the same time, Pablo and Annalisa were having trouble getting Ipski-Pipski to pick up the first probe. They kept pushing it out of their reach. At last they finally had it in their grasp and started to weave the attached rope through the waypoints. It was taking a little longer than we would like, but they were ahead of the Canadian teams split time. They seemed to be having trouble rising above obstacles.

After passing the last waypoint, they went to insert the first probe in the module. Only 11 minutes had elapsed and we knew it was possible to complete inserting the last two probes in just a few minutes. This was shaping up into a great race.
Ipski seemed to be fumbling and wasting time. Seconds passed – a half minute then a whole minute, then two and still the probe was in the ROV’s claw. Then the kids started to pull the ROV to the surface by pulling the tether. Our hearts sank. Pulling on the tether is a five point penalty and it meant something was wrong. We watched as they retrieved Ipski and placed him on the deck.

The kids started to cut and move things around and we saw they were adding some buoyant floats. We could not think of any reason why they would be adding buoyancy. After a few minutes of M.A.S.H.-like operating, Ipski was put back in the water and descending to pick up the probes by the cabinets. It only took them 3 minutes to complete the last tasks of the mission and the two ROVs returned to the surface. They completed all the tasks in 26.8 minutes.

Our final score for the ROV performance is 170(perfect) – 5 (penalty for raising ROV by tether pulling) + 3.2 bonus for finishing early = Total 168.2!!
When we returned to the pits we saw what the problem was: Our “turkey pan” case that held the electronics had crushed in the four corners, thus we lost some of our volume and the ROV lost some of its flotation and could not rise above the bottom of the pool under its own power.

The kids had wisely brought it up, added flotation to compensate for the lost volume and completed the tasks. Their cool-headiness and decisive actions saved the day! In all the MATE ROV competitions, no one had completed all tasks, until today.

This evening we drove to Galveston and ate seafood. We told the waiter that it was Annalisa’s birthday and they made a big (and embarrassing) deal about it. She had to dance around Joe’s Crab Shack with two cones on her mouth like a seagull beak while the crowd sang the traditional Happy Birthday song.

Afterwards we walked around the historic town. It came so close to being hit by a huge hurricane last year that we all thought how fragile this community is. Surely some day a huge storm will once again wash over these cobblestone streets.

Tomorrow we will go watch the rest of the competition, including Arizona State University and Chandler High School from AZ.

Fredi is posting today’s pictures at: http://www.phxhs.k12.az.us/education/components/scrapbook/default.php?sectiondetailid=42960&pagecat=209

Sunday morning

The last of the underwater competitions are over. The results of the mission tasks are:
Team # School/Team Name Mission Score
15 Arizona State University 0
10 CATE Center -10
6 Carl Hayden Community High School 168.52
5 Clatsop Community College 130
16 Franklin W.Olin College of Engineering 0
14 Long Beach City College 65
4 Marine Institute of Memorial University 185.05
2 MIT 0
8 Missouri Sate University 0
9 Monterey Peninsula College 70
3 Palm Beach Lakes High School 20
7 Pasadena Memorial 0
11 UC Davis -15
12 University of Waterloo DQ
1 University of Wisconsin Milwaukee -5

This evening, at the banquet, the technical writing, presentation and poster scores will be disclosed and the total scores. It looks like we are the strongest team for second place. We’ll see in a few hours.

It's amazing to see how many teams wound up with 0 or negative points. The water pressure sure takes its toll. I guess we could boast that we beat MIT again for the third time, but our ROV almost crushed and sank alongside the collegiate ROV debris..
The most rewarding part of the competition was to watch our students diagnose the problem when Ipski almost was crushed, quickly come to a consensus on a possible solution, haul the ROV up, add buoyancy, place it back in the water and continue the mission. All the while the clock it ticking and there is no room for error. They never gave up and pulled a successful mission out of a near disaster. They were a professional engineering team!

Sunday evening

It’s one of those bittersweet nights.
We won the second place overall trophy and we were very happy about it. In the last three years we have placed first, third and now second. We are very proud of our record. It’s not often a high school can consistently rank that high in a university competition.

The downer part of the evening, was when they announced that next year’s competition will be in Canada. While we would all love to visit Newfoundland, Carl Hayden High School is predominantly Hispanic and many of the students at school are undocumented. Neither Fredi nor I want to have to investigate student’s legal status or risk leaving the country with children who may have trouble re entering the U.S. As a result, we will not be competing next year in the MATE ROV competition.
SO this year season ends.

Annalisa will spend a few weeks in Atlanta as an intern video producer and then return to Phoenix to begin her engineering/business career at Arizona State University.

Lorenzo will be working at a local scuba shop this summer and then begins classes at Phoenix Community College.

Cristian has a new laptop computer and he is always using it: games, internet and Visual BASIC programming. He begins his engineering education at Arizona State University.

Pablo, Daniel and Adam will return to Carl Hayden in two months and they will be the new leadership along with Airreal, Angelica, Marco, Victor, Eric and a dozen others to begin another school year.

Thanks for all the kind words. We’ll be back soon.

Monday evening June 26, 2006 --Phoenix

We spent this morning in our Houston hotel. Actually, Daniel and Adam did not wake up until after noon!

We received emails and phone calls from some local Phoenix news media and a couple of Spanish language papers.

At least two national outlets have contacted us.

You guys are sure sending these emails around!!!

Craig, our school district public relations guru wrote a press release and I’ve attached it to this email.

When there is going to be national news exposure, I’ll tip you off.

Today was also Annalisa’s 18th birthday and we celebrated all day. She wore a pink crown even when we eat a Luther’s BBQ.

Most of us arrived safely home this evening. The exception is Fredi who is somewhere in west Texas on U.S.10 driving the ROV’s and equipment home. He’s the most amazing guy. All of the robotic activity is above and beyond his regular teaching duties. He does not even get any extra pay for any of it. When asked why he does it, he replies, “It’s the most effective teaching I’ve ever done”. What a professional. I’m lucky to be working with him.

There are some wise companies that have sponsored our activities: Intel, Honeywell, Wells-Fargo, Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. Their community investment programs make this all possible.

One local home builder, Ira A. Fulton, attended one of our presentations. He asked how much it cost to go to Houston. We replied that with airfare, hotels, meals and parts it was close to $10,000. He said, “Ill pay for that.” He did and it sure helped.

Our mentors, Karen and Jerry and Marcos have been such a positive influence on the kids. They change lives. I realize they have changed mine also. What an inspiration they are.

Several small businesses in the neighborhood have opened their parts and raw material supplies “for the neighborhood’s robotics team”. You see their names on the front of our team T-shirts.

There have been so many companies, engineers, technicians, and other professionals that we call on when we are stuck who will teach us on the spot what we need to know to solve a problem. Many have become friends. We may be a high school, but we have access to the best minds in the country.

The kids’ parents and families have been fantastic. We keep their kids for many hours after school which mean missed dinners, strange pick up and drop off times and all the adjustments families make to accommodate our weird schedules.

Our school principal, Steve Ybarra, and our staff have put up with all our antics. That’s a risky proposition for a well-ordered school. They took the risk and I hope all the messes we made and all the late passes we wrote were worth it.

Our school district, from the school board, superintendent to the last hired clerk have encouraged us and have seen that our forgotten or last minute paperwork is completed.

“it takes a village…” Nah, it takes many more people than a simple village!

And of course there are the hundreds of people who have sent us emails, letters, and have met us in person. You guys have been fantastic. It’s not unusual to see a wet eye in the room when we read a bunch of your emails.

I’m tired and I’m going to sleep tonight!