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Press Release

Contact:
Lisa Kirchner
(974) 492-8262

For immediate release:
May 16, 2005

Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar Launches First International Botball Robotics Club

Botball Challenge slated for 21 May 2005

DOHA, QATAR—Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar is pleased to announce it will conclude its first robotics club program with a tournament featuring teams from local secondary schools. The upcoming Botball Robotics Challenge will be the first international competition of its kind ever held. Scheduled to take place at the Qatar Academy gym on Saturday, May 21, 2005 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the contest will be judged by faculty from the university's main campus in Pittsburgh.

Currently, the American School of Doha, the Omar Bin Al-Khattab Educational Complex for boys (also known as the Scientific School), Qatar Academy and the International School of Choueifat have clubs expected to compete in the contest. Judges at the Botball Robotics Challenge include Matthew Mason, professor of computer science and robotics and director of the Robotics Institute, and Illah Nourbakhsh, associate professor of robotics at the Robotics Institute. Professor Nourbakhsh serves as Robotics Group lead at the Ames Research Center in NASA.

"We're delighted to be offering this educational opportunity in Doha to secondary school students," said Dr. Charles Thorpe, dean, Carnegie Mellon Qatar. "Carnegie Mellon is committed to reaching out to the community, and the robotics clubs are a wonderful way to encourage young students to learn more about science. Better still, the program's popularity allows us to host the Doha Robo Challenge, which is particularly appealing for Doha with the current focus on sports."

Botball is a unique approach to robotics curriculum that emphasizes learning through practical application. The program was developed in 1993 in the U.S. by the KISS Institute for Practical Robotics (KIPR) (www.kipr.org), and this is the first international chapter to host a competition.

Botball in Qatar is the brainchild of Dr. Thorpe, who started robotics clubs in October 2004 with the help of his son, Leland. With an eye toward hosting a competition, together they established clubs in five of Doha's secondary schools. Leland, a Botball enthusiast and former participant in Botball tournaments in the U.S., leads the weekly after-school club meetings.

"Qatar is the first country outside of the United States to host a Botball Challenge," said Leland. "As a former participant, it's a real honor to launch a new chapter in a new part of the world."

Selman Mawad, a computer science teacher from the International School of Choueifat, says there has been more interest in programming classes since the robotics workshops started.

"The clubs have created quite a buzz among high school and middle school students," said Dean Thorpe. "We have received an enthusiastic response from the students and I am excited to see how quickly they have embraced the discipline, patience and concept of teamwork that is required of them to program robots."

Using Lego kits provided by Carnegie Mellon Qatar to create the robots, students write the programs in C language, one of the most popular computer languages used in science and business. Outfitted with standard Lego materials, these kits also include technical pieces like touch and light sensors, as well as two microcontrollers. These microcontrollers, the XBC and the Handyboard, provide the brains of the robot; students download programs to it that they write on an ordinary desktop PC. The XBC is new to this year's Botball Challenge, and features a modified Game Boy Advance as well as a sophisticated color vision system.

"It's a wonderful opportunity to have the world's best teaching our students," said Chris Connellan, deputy director of the International School of Choueifat.

As a build-up to the final challenge in April, Leland sets a challenge every week. Previous challenges have seen students designing line-following robots, robots that run freely over tables without falling off the edge, as well as robots that can sumo wrestle each other.

"We are particularly proud of Leland's leadership in this project as he is the first former Botball student to initiate and implement a new Botball region himself," said Cathryne Stein, KIPR executive director and co-founder. "It reflects well on his personal experience in the program as well as his enterprise, vision and integrity in going to great efforts to give something valuable back to his local community." Lobna Genena a club member from The International School of Choueifat said, "I'm looking forward to the final challenge; it will be fun to compete against other schools. I've learned a lot about programming through the workshops."

About Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar
Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar is the first international branch campus operated by Carnegie Mellon University, a private American research university with a distinctive mix of programs in computer science, robotics, engineering, the sciences, business, public policy, fine arts and the humanities. In August 2004 Carnegie Mellon Qatar began offering its internationally recognized undergraduate programs in business and computer science at the invitation of the Qatar Foundation. Joining Texas A&M, Virginia Commonwealth and Weill Cornell Medical College, Carnegie Mellon plans to open a new facility on the Education City campus in 2007. More information can be found at www.qatar.cmu.edu.

About The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University
The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University was established in 1979 to conduct basic and applied research in robotics technologies relevant to industrial and societal tasks. Seeking to combine the practical and the theoretical, the Robotics Institute has diversified its efforts and approaches to robotics science while retaining its original goal of realizing the potential of the robotics field. For more details, log on to www.ri.cmu.edu.

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