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Release: May 7, 1999

Iowa high school students compete in national robotics competition

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa high school students recently teamed with university and industry engineers to become "gladiators of technology" as part of a nationwide robotics competition designed to stimulate interest in science and technology.

Robots built by five teams of Iowa high school students battled at the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition, held April 22 to 24 at Disney World's Epcot Center in Orlando, Fla.

In this clash of robots and their student handlers, two Iowa teams finished in the top 50 among the 207 teams from the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. The Cedar Falls High School team finished in 28th place and was led by the engineers from Doerfer Engineering and Deere & Co. The Quad Cities team of Davenport West, Moline, and Sherrard high schools finished in 49th place and were led by engineers from the Deere Technical Center and the Genesis Systems Group.

The teams from nine high schools competed this year, with many participating for the first time. Among first-year teams, the Cedar Falls team placed third in the country and the Quad City team placed12th. All five Iowa teams won qualifying matches, including Des Moines Central Campus High School; Ames High School; and the Iowa City team with students from Iowa City West, City, and Regina high schools.

"This is a remarkable performance for these teams, particularly for the first-year teams. They faced many schools that have fielded teams for the past seven years," said Jay Christensen-Szalanski, a UI professor of management and organizations who is working with the UI John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center to increase Iowa's representation at the national competition.

The students had about two months to build the remote-controlled robots for the competition. In each round, students maneuvered their robots across a 30-square-foot "battlefield," earning points for robots raising pillow-like" floppies" up to heights of eight feet, moving a wooden puck on rollers, or positioning the robots on top of a puck.

This year the national competition broke the record as the largest student event ever hosted at EPCOT, with more than 20,000 participants and spectators. Overall, Iowa ranked 14th in the nation in the number of teams it sent to the national competition.

Several of Iowa's leading technological and manufacturing corporations including Deere & Co., MCI WorldCom, Rockwell Collins, Compressor Controls, Townsend Engineering, HON Industries, and Mid-American Energy provided financial and technical expertise to assist state high schools in the national robotics competition. In addition, UI engineering faculty assisted the Iowa City team, Iowa State's engineers helped the Ames team, and University of Northern Iowa aided the Cedar Falls team. All together, these companies and universities together with many local businesses donated nearly $350,000 in personnel, volunteers, and resources.

"This was a great example of businesses teaming up with universities to help high school students learn first-hand how to apply many of the mathematical and scientific principles they learn in classes to solving a competitive technological problem," said Christensen-Szalanski.

The Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center is interested in doubling the number of teams Iowa sends to the nationals next year. The Center is now focused on assisting community colleges to team-up with high schools and local businesses for next year's competition, said Christensen-Szalanski.

"We think the combination of technical skills and experience that the community colleges and their students can provide to the high schools and local businesses is a perfect fit for this type of competition," he explained.

For more information about participating in the next FIRST robotics competition or if you would like to see some of the robots in action, contact Christensen-Szalanski at the Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center at (319) 335-0260.