Kentucky has long been known for it's basketball prowess and now some high school students are hoping to make the Bluegrass proud with hoops-playing robots.
Danielle Scott is part of a Fayette County high school robotics team that spent the last six weeks building a robot that shoots basketballs for a national competition.
"It's really challenging to come up with a design," said Scott, a senior at Lexington's Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. But she thinks the Fayette County team might have a leg up. "We're Kentucky so we are a basketball state," she said.
More than 2,300 high school teams have built basketball shooting robots and will take them to competitions in March. The competitions are sponsored by FIRST ®, a national non-profit founded by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, the two-wheeled, self-balancing transportation machine. Kamen founded FIRST ® ,an acronym for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people, according to officials from the New-Hampshire based organization. Just by participating in the FIRST competitions, students are eligible to apply to dozens of scholarships from universities across the country.
In a regional competition in March dubbed "Rebound Rumble," the Fayette County team will play in Knoxville. A student controls the robot from a distance as the robot's camera eye hones in on a backboard's reflective-tape target.
Three teams each put a robot on the field in an alliance against another trio of teams. Each alliance has two and a half minutes to score as many baskets as possible at hoops of varying heights
A team from Lynn Camp High School in Knox County will also compete in Knoxville, said coach Arthur Canada.
In the last year and a half has doubled its number of Kentucky high school robotics teams from nine to 18, said L.J. Robinson, a regional director for FIRST. Robinson said that some of the programs are based at schools, some are through 4-H Clubs that have shifted their programs into robotics and some teams, such as the one at Lynn Camp, are a combination of school and 4-H clubs.
The Lynn Camp team displayed its robot in an exhibition during half time of the girls and boys basketball games at the 51st District Tournament last week. Human players beat the robot by one or two points. At a later exhibition, a player tied with the robot, said Canada.
"This is a great program for a student with some technical aptitude to have an outlet to grow and learn," said Canada. The team worked two to four hours after school most days and at least five hours on Saturdays to perfect their robot.
The Fayette County team is made up of about two dozen students from Dunbar, Henry Clay and Lafayette high schools. On January 7, the teams received a parts kit from FIRST with motors, batteries, a control system, a personal computer and automation components — but no instructions, school officials said. Working with adult mentors, including engineers from Lexmark, the Fayette students designed, built, programmed and tested their robots. One group of students designed the control mechanism while another put together the sections of the robot that shoots the basketballs.
It cost the Fayette County team $4,000 for the robot kit and they have to pay for supplies and traveling costs to competitions, said Jim Adams, a technology staff member at Dunbar.
The students get some money from the district but students also raise money to cover their costs.
The Fayette County and Lynn Camp teams count the retailer JC Penney among their corporate sponsors. The teams are looking for more corporate sponsors and Canada said Lynn Camp needs volunteers with technical expertise.
The teams are hoping to advance to the national championships in St. Louis in April.
Elementary and middle school students are also entering technology competitions and some Fayette schools are incorporating robotics classes as part of the curriculum, said Fayette County Schools spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall.
Meanwhile, team member Kirk Hardy, a junior at Lafayette High School, said he is leaning toward studying computer engineering in college. He thinks what he has learned when he built the basketball shooting robot will help him.
Scott said she's learned skills that will serve her well when she studies biology and environmental sciences in college.
"It's taught me leadership and time management and working in a group," she said.