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Students tackle football-playing robots

Weekend competition heads to the gridiron, where students will show off their engineering creativity.

November 16, 2011|By Sarah Peters

COSTA MESA — In the world of the future, robots play football. That day will be one field goal closer Saturday.

The Orange Coast College Engineering Club, along with robotic mascot Pete the Pirate, will host the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Invention Challenge in which 30 high school and junior high school teams from Southern California will enter their robotic creations at 9 a.m. in front of the college's library.

The robots must be less than 2 meters tall and able to kick a regulation football over a 2-meter obstacle and into a trash can, according to the rules posted on JPL's website.

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"[The students] come up with some pretty good inventions," said Robert Castaño, professor of electronics technology. "Their skill level is low, but their creativity and imagination is high."

Finalists from Saturday's competition will go on to compete against other finalists from a second Invention Challenge event, which also takes place Saturday but in Los Angeles.

The finalists' robots from both groups will go head to head in a kicking competition Dec. 9 at JPL in Pasadena.

"It was a lot of fun for them to compete, and there was a lot of excitement in the room," club member Rick Warner, 22, said of the same event in 2009, where students designed a bridge as the designated challenge.

"There was so much intensity as they prepared to see how well their invention would work," he continued. "They put so much time and effort into these projects. It was the moment of truth."

Frustration and elation go hand in hand at the event, but overall it's the learning that occurs that leaves students better prepared for entering into an engineering major — or any other career field, Castaño said.

"Often students don't understand how or where they will use the academic tools they've been studying," he said. "But when they are able to apply that knowledge to projects and have to come up with creative solutions for problem solving, they encounter the reason for why they've been studying."

Problem solving and the ability to work in a team setting are desirable skills in today's competitive job market, he added.

And the ability to work in robotics opens more doors than most students realize, he said.

"Look around you as you go about your day," Castaño said. "How many things are automated? Your microwave, the street lights, your garage door opener, those are all robots. Even this building itself, with the automated lights and heating and cooling system, is one big robot."

sarah.peters@latimes.com

Twitter: @speters01

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