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December 10, 2010 > NASA funds nationwide robotics program

NASA funds nationwide robotics program

Submitted By NASA Newsroom
Photos By John J. Schultz

NASA is providing up to $20 million over the next five years to support a national program to inspire student interest in science, technology, and mathematics with a focus on robotic technology.

Funding is part of a cooperative agreement with the foundation For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), a nonprofit organization in Manchester, New Hampshire. FIRST provides students the opportunity to engage with government, industry, and university experts for hands-on, realistic exposure to engineering and technical professions.

"This is the largest NASA-funded student program geared toward robotics activities," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "For the next five years, approximately 25,000 students across the country will not only learn from our nation's best and brightest, but also compete and have fun at the same time."

The centerpiece of the program is the annual FIRST Robotics Competition. During more than 45 regional competitions, teams of high school students have six weeks to build a robot using an identical kit of parts. There are dimension and weight limitations and other technical restrictions, but teams can determine the look and function of the robots. Regional competitions culminate with an international championship in April.

The competition is structured like an athletic event. Teams compete in an area the size of a small basketball court. The robots must have offensive and defensive capabilities. Each team's robot works to accomplish a task, while preventing its opponent from doing the same. The robots must be sturdy because of frequent contact between the machines.

"This program has had a direct impact on our ability to mentor U.S. students and help them consider technical careers," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "Supporting this program is critical to developing scientists and engineers for future U.S. space exploration."

NASA's Robotics Alliance Project (RAP) solicited proposals October 4 from nonprofit and educational institutions to design and administer a robotics outreach competition. RAP, which is sponsored by NASA's Science Mission Directorate and managed from NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, competitively selected FIRST from the candidates.

"In addition to financial support, there is considerable time investment and commitment on the part of the NASA engineers and scientists who work with the students," said Solar System Program Executive Dave Lavery of NASA Headquarters.

During the past 16 years, the RAP has issued approximately $40 million to academic and nonprofit organizations across the nation to stimulate intellectual capability in fields tied to robotics engineering. All 10 NASA centers participate in the RAP by contributing technology expertise, funding, and other resources.

NASA is the largest organization involved with FIRST and has participated since 1995. In 1999, NASA and First signed a memorandum of agreement to cooperatively expand the availability of technology development, education, and inspiration programs to students throughout the country. U.S. entrepreneur Dean Kamen founded FIRST in 1989 to encourage youth to become leaders in science and technology.

For more information about NASA's Robotics Alliance Project, visit: http://robotics.nasa.gov.

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