WORCESTER, Mass. – The FIRST robotics team from the Massachusetts Academy of Mathematics and Sciences at WPI, which is sponsored by Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), won the prestigious Regional Chairman's Award at the FIRST BAE Systems/Granite State Regional in Manchester, N.H., on March 3, making the team the first in the competition's history to win the award in two consecutive years. Currently, the team is preparing to compete in the FIRST Championship in Atlanta in April.
The Regional Chairman's Award was presented to the WPI/Mass. Academy team for encouraging the best partnership effort among team participants and best exemplifying the true meaning of FIRST, whose mission, in part, is to motivate young people to pursue opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The team is one of only five that have remained continuously involved in FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) since the robotics competition began in 1992. Upon the award's announcement, the team received a standing ovation from the 45 other teams from across the United States and Canada competing in the New Hampshire regional event. The award was presented by accomplished inventor and FIRST founder Dean Kamen (WPI Class of 1973).
The judges called the WPI/Mass. Academy team "legendary" and a team that "does it all," in describing why it deserved the award. They also praised team members for mentoring several FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) and the FIRST Lego League (FLL) teams and for each year conducting some 50 demonstrations throughout New England. WPI, which has developed the nation's first bachelor's degree program in robotics engineering, which will be available starting this fall, runs a state FLL tournament, two robotics summer camps, and an off-season FRC tournament. WPI also offers a VEX intermediate-level robotics system (a high school robotics competition that uses a more affordable robotics kit), and has arranged several VEX scrimmages.
Last fall, WPI launched an after-school robotics program called "RoboKids," where WPI and Mass. Academy students work with children that attend the Friendly House Community Center in Worcester. Each week, Friendly House children come to the WPI campus to work with university students and faculty members on how to build robots and participate in activities aimed at inspiring the study of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
In this year's FIRST challenge, called "Rack 'n Roll," two, three-team alliances play against each other, each attempting to score points by placing inner tubes at several locations. The WPI/Mass. Academy team's robot, nicknamed "Goat-Dactyl," is a 132-pound, six-wheeled, remote-controlled vehicle capable of sensor-driven autonomous operations that enable it to locate scoring locations and place tubes on them during the beginning of each match. According to team advisor Kenneth Stafford, adjunct assistant professor at WPI and director of the university's robotics program, the robot is an "elegant device, student-designed, student-built, and student-operated that is unique in its deployable, dual five-foot-long ramps, which allow our alliance partners to be instantly raised to 12 inches above the floor for a 60-point bonus at the end of each match."
"While I am very pleased with the sort of influence we have within our own team, this award recognizes the more far-reaching impact the WPI/Mass. Academy team has on the community at large," says Stafford. "Our team was recognized as being the benchmark for outreach. Most teams work hard for 6 1/2 weeks to build a great robot, but we work 52 weeks a year to build a great team. I have no doubt that the team influences hundreds of young people every year to consider engineering and science as an enjoyable, worthwhile, and rewarding choice for school and career."
As a Regional Chairman's Award winner, the WPI/Mass. Academy team will compete in Atlanta against the winners from the other 36 regional competitions for the Championship Chairman's Award.