By: Adam Hecktman
Gathered on the University of Chicago’s pavilion, more than 50 high school robotics teams (13 teams representing Chicago Public Schools) competed in this year’s Midwest Regional FIRST Robotics Competition on March 22-24. FIRST is a non-profit organization devoted to helping young people discover and develop a passion for STEM (science, engineering, technology, and mathematics).
The theme for this year’s competition was "Rebound Rumble" in which all student-built robots that had to move across the court, pick up balls and shoot hoops.
The competition included teams of up to 10 students that designed, built and programmed robots from a basic kit. Students were given access to a development environment called LabVIEW from National Instruments, a visual programming language that allowed students to drag and drop blocks that represent what actions the robot would take.
While I was prepared to be impressed by the innovation of these young students, I wasn’t prepared to be touched. Team Titan, made up of students from the Illinois Science and Math Academy in Aurora, utilized Microsoft Kinect, the Kinect SDK, and Visual Studio to build the robot. Team Titan entered the competition with their principal, Dr. McLaren in mind. Dr. McLaren has ALS, a disease that causes gradual paralysis and has cost him the use of one of his arms. By using Microsoft technology, Team Titan used their intelligence and spirit to build a robotic device to serve the function of their principal’s arm, which would be controlled entirely through leg movements.
Undoubtedly, Team Titan’s work will inspire other students to use technologies, like the Kinect, to improve the condition of people with special needs. To learn more about FIRST and their robotics programs, visit their website by clicking here. Also be sure to check out some video highlights from the 2012 Midwest Regional here.