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.


Lonnie Dwight Griffin Jr said...

Good to see the team is still strong.
Is Ledge still there? Well got out of the military and checking up on you guys. My dream job is at Tesla Motors. Might stop by next semester.

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