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Valley high school students give robots life during HESTEC
Contact: Amanda Perez, Intern 381-2741
Posted: 10/02/2009
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Students from across South Texas worked tirelessly to prepare robots for what would be an intense sumo wrestling competition at Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Robotics Day at The University of Texas-Pan American Oct. 1.

Pictured from left to right are Eder Torres, student at Mission Memorial High School; Cesar Plaza, lieutenant commander of the U.S. Navy; and Mike Cavazos,, student at Brownsville Pace High School, at the championship match during HESTEC Robotics Day Oct. 1.

Fifty-three schools had to compete in three rounds to prove that their robots were the best in the arena and deserved to be in the championship. Each school had a team of five students that was provided with Lego Mindstorm NXT 2.0 Robots to build its own robotic creation. Students had three weeks to finalize their robots which would be programmed with input sensors for the battle. They had certain specifications to follow. Their robots could not weigh more than two pounds and had to fit on a one-foot square.

"We want students to learn that technology is fun, and through Robotics Day we want them to take advantage of the new technology, such as these robots and learn the simplicity of using such technology," said Joel Ruiz, UTPA network specialist and HESTEC Robotics Day coordinator.

Some teams were victorious, while others faced disappointment as their robot's sensors malfunctioned or wrestled "injured" after being broken by a fall. Roma High School junior, Luis Gomez and his team were victorious throughout the day with their robot, "Scorpion."

"We're so excited to be advancing rounds, we have put in a lot of work on our robot," Gomez said. "We are having fun, this event is a great opportunity to experience robotics, and we hope to participate again next year."

Others, like Ismael Ramirez, a senior at St. Joseph Academy in Brownsville, and his team faced disappointment as their robot malfunctioned. Despite it all, they kept their spirits high.

"Our final test runs, had shown our robot working properly, but it just gave out in the middle of the competition," Ramirez said. "At least the robot moved and HESTEC has been a great experience in engineering. I have had fun."

Pictured from left to right are Santa Rosa High School students Sergio Dantes, Luis Martinez, Brando Olivarez, David Rodriguez and Jonathan Zepeda preparing their robot before the HESTEC Robotics Day competition.

The robots were placed back to back in a four-foot diameter ring and were then programmed to touch the white outer ring before wrestling. The robots then had three chances to push the other out of the ring to advance to the next round. The fierce competition of the day led three schools to victory. Taking first place was Veterans Memorial High School, second place went to Pace High School and third place to Edcouch-Elsa High School.

"It took three months to finalize details on this event so I am glad to see that students are doing well in this high drama competition and having fun," Ruiz said. "We hope to do this again next year."

Robotics Day was sponsored by Marathon Oil, an international corporation that has participated in HESTEC since its inception in 2002. Timothy N. Tipton, vice president of Upstream Technology at Marathon, said he wanted to spread a message to students about technology.

"I wanted to demonstrate how the robots that they have built are not too dissimilar from some of the ones we use on our daily operations," Tipton said. "I want them to realize that there is a bright future, and although there are challenges, many of the solutions rely upon technology. I hope to reinforce their decisions to study and take careers in engineering and science."

Tipton said he was pleased to be at HESTEC and around people who are passionate about engineering and science.

"I am so happy to be here on Robotics Day. It shows the passion that the University and HESTEC have for math and science," Tipton said. "HESTEC is a great demonstration of the commitment that the University and companies like Marathon have toward the Hispanic community and allowing them to be a bigger part of America's future."

The following prizes were given to members of the top three robotic sumo wrestling teams: first place, Dell NetBooks; second place, iPod touch; and third place, iPod Nanos.

In addition to the prizes, there is one more thing that Tipton hopes students will take away from Robotics Day.

"I want students participating in HESTEC and Robotics Day to know that they are the key to our future in science and engineering."

For more information on HESTEC, visit hestec.utpa.edu.

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