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Press Release

Contact: Anne Watzman
(412) 268-3830

For immediate release:
November 30, 2001

Carnegie Mellon and AT&T Host Robotics Tournament
Featuring 300 Pittsburgh-Area Middle School Students

PITTSBURGH-More than 300 Pittsburgh middle-schoolers, aged 9-14, took the field to compete in the annual FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League robotics competition, Saturday, Dec 1, at Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Consortium (NREC) in Lawrenceville.

The students used LEGO MINDSTORMSt.m. kits to develop robots that competed in meeting a challenge. The theme this year was "Arctic Impact," and the students built autonomous robots designed to help a group of researchers studying climate change in the Arctic who were in danger of becoming trapped in a huge storm. The robots performed as many as nine separate missions to save the researchers, their equipment and the data they had collected.

The students worked in teams. In addition to the competition, they made presentations at the event describing the mechanical design of their robots, the combination of programming logic and sensors they used to make them autonomous and the environmental impact of global warming.The event was sponsored by Carnegie Mellon and AT&T, which provided financial support. This is the second year that Carnegie Mellon has sponsored this tournament through the NREC's Robotics Academy, a university educational outreach program.

The LegoFIRST competition is a national program. What's different about the Pittsburgh effort is that the Robotics Academy is leveraging it to develop educational materials for teachers who will use robotics to teach math and science concepts in their classrooms.

"Instead of just hosting a tournament, we're providing all the training and all the resources to make this as user friendly as possible," said Robin Shoop, NREC's director of educational outreach. "But the kids take the lead. Many adults are afraid of technology."

Last year's tournament included 25 teams, of which only two were from the Pittsburgh area. This year, 30 local teams participated in the event while others came from across the state and as far away as New Jersey, New York and Maryland.

In the past year Carnegie Mellon's two-year-old Robotics Academy has been instrumental in developing robotics clubs at a host of Pittsburgh service organizations and schools in the Pittsburgh Public Schools and Catholic Diocesan systems. Students from Schenley High School's Technological Studies Magnet are mentoring teams from Oakland, the Hill District and the North Side, and parent volunteers are participating as well.

In the spring of 2002, the Robotics Academy will offer professional development classes for teachers who will learn how to use robotics educational technology to demonstrate applied math, science and technology concepts in their classrooms. An education group from NASA, which gave the original funding to the NREC, has been working to develop curriculum modules.

The FIRST robotics event is becoming so popular that Shoop said NREC is negotiating with the University of Pittsburgh and California University of Pennsylvania about holding similar events on their campuses.

"We had over 1,000 people at the NREC Saturday, and we're maxed out for space" he said.

"Intellectual competitions are just one example of the excitement that robotics creates in the minds of young people," said John Bares, Robotics Institute senior research scientist and director of the NREC. "At the Robotics Institute, we are determined to capitalize on that excitement to expand the scientific curiosity, and ultimately, scientific knowledge of students nationwide".

Shoop said the Robotics Academy has been instrumental in developing robotics clubs at the Hill House, Sarah Heinz House, Hays Manor in McKees Rocks, Burns Heights in Duquesne, Marion Circle in Clairton, and Mount Ararat Baptist Church in East Liberty, as well as Frick Middle School, Riverview School District, Incarnation Academy on the North Side, St. Bede in Point Breeze, Word of God in Swissvale, St. Bernard of Mount Lebanon, St. John the Baptist of Plum Borough, Carlow Elementary School, St. Ursula in the North Hills, St. Wendelin in Butler, Brookline Regional Catholic, and Hampton Middle School.

The Robotics Academy has received funding from the AT&T Foundation, NASA, the Heinz Endowments, the Grable Foundation and ALCOA Foundation, as well as private donations.

Carnegie Mellon will host another robotics competition in the spring of 2002. For more information about the AT&T/FIRST Lego League Competition visit http://www.firstlegoleague.org/ To learn more about the Robotics Academy visit http://www.rec.ri.cmu.edu/education

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