Last weekend was the Dallas FIRST Regional

Last weekend was the Dallas FRC regional. There are videos of the competition available on-line. This year’s competition was steampunk based.

FRC

I’ve been coordinating judging for the FIRST Robotics competition in Dallas for about 8 years now, so naturally there are a significant number of retired EDS and a few Raytheon folks involved.

FRC allows students to start from a standard kit of parts and some state of the art tools (received at the kickoff in January) to build a robot attempting to meet specified objectives. This video is an overview of this year’s challenge – FIRST Steamworks

The goal of FIRST is to encourage the understanding and passion around STEM. It has a proven track record of results that is hard to argue with. 


I was also drafted to judge the Jr. FIRST Lego League competition on Saturday morning. That competition is targeted at grade school students. At least in the Dallas area this competition was sponsored by Raytheon, among others.

Jr

Article about instilling excitement in students about STEM

STEMI’ve posted before about my involvement in FIRST. Today, I saw a post about Super Bowl of robotics makes STEM exciting that mentions

Only 16 percent of American high-school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career, according to the U.S Department of Education. Factor in that the United States ranks 31st in math and 24th in science globally, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and it’s enough for some to say the United States is in the midst of a STEM crisis.

FIRST is one of many techniques that can address this decline by putting careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math in context — showing how rewarding and exciting these careers can be.

Voice recognition project completed at UTD

Every semester I try and work with some students at UTD by facilitating a ‘capstone’ project. It’s another dimension of my support for STEM education.education2 Yesterday, they gave their presentation to their professor and class.

This semester the project was creating an Android based speech recognition solution to facilitate a Voice-based Inspection and Evaluation Framework. We shied away from using Google’s speech recognition, since we wanted off-line capabilities, as well as enhanced security/privacy. Addressing this expectation was one of the first issues the team had to conquer.

They were able to identify and implement an open source library providing the speech recognition (PocketSphinx). They also used Android.Speech.tts for text-to-speech interaction with the user.

The team created a visual programming environment to graphically define a flowchart and export that to an XML file that the mobile device was able to use to facilitate the inspection process. The mobile application could have a number of these stored for later use.

The end product was able to handle a range of speech recognition needs:

  • Yes/no
  • Answer from a list of valid responses (e.g., States)
  • Answer with a number (range checked)
  • Free form sound capture

Overall, I was very impressed with what these students were able to accomplish during the semester and the quality of the Software Life Cycle work products they were able to produce. Naturally, since we didn’t know exactly what they were going to be able to accomplish they used a modified agile approach – since they still had to produce the work products require for the class based on a predefined time table.  We incorporated the concept of designing specific sprints around producing those work products as well as the typical need to define, document and validate requirements.

I started the project while working at HP and Dave Gibson and Cliff Wilke helped facilitate it to the end (they are still with HP).

FIRST in STEM – Judging at the Championship

This week is the FIRST Robotics Championship in St. Louis. I am going to be a judge there again this year as part of team Newton. There will be over 600 teams from across the globe in the FRC championship.

 

FIRST is on a mission to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders. They have developed into a program with a proven track record of impact on student’s education and career choices, which I’ve been part of for many years.

 

I’ll try and post some pictures to this blog if I get a chance. If you’d like to watch it online, NASA will have a live webcast.

This video is an overview of this year’s challenge – Recycle Rush:

I’ve found FRC to be an exciting and enlightening experience for the students and the volunteers. Every year I am surprised at the ingenuity and commitment demonstrated by those participating.


The main competition is judged by numerous factors beyond how the robots perform on the field, like:

  • Coopertition (helping others that you are competing against)
  • Project planning
  • Quality/safety
  • Technical achievement
  • Business plan and marketing

The on field performance is not judged, since it has its own rules… Referees determine the winners of that portion of the competition.

You can see video from this year’s North Texas Regional, if you are interested.