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Robotics Competition at Hayfield

After the robot rakes in all the points possible, it gets an additional 50 points by latching onto a bar 10 to 12 feet in the air and lifting itself, dangling for a specified time.

This is all part of the action that will take place at the FIRST Robotics Competition NASA\VCU Regional, on March 4-6, involving schools from all over the country. Teams come from 63 high schools in nine states as well as Canada. The event is sponsored by FIRST, which stands for "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology," as well as a list of scientific companies.

Hayfield Secondary is one of the teams preparing for the competition, with Crosspointe resident Kevin Newell, a senior at Hayfield, manning the joystick that steers the robot.

"It's just like driving a giant remote control car," Newell said. "We can turn on a dime."

The "we" he referred to were fellow members of the Hayfield Robotic Team, which has teamed up with EOIR Technologies at Fort Belvoir to perfect its robot.

Other area schools in the competition include Langley High School, sponsored by Explus Inc., and Oakton High School, sponsored by Raytheon, PEC Solutions and Lockheed Martin.

Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segue, a new personal transportation device, is a driving force behind FIRST.

"He's just somebody that believes there's not enough kids involved in mechanics and electronics," said Patti Cook, spokesperson at FIRST.

Cook added that too much concentration has been placed on sports among the students these days, and not enough on potential scientists. Students with the aptitude it takes to build robots can train for jobs as technicians, machinists and researchers. Some of the sponsoring companies hire the students for summer internships that could possibly lead to careers in science-related fields.

"They want young people who can think like that," Cook said. "It's not just information technology and computers."

Guy Dubois, vice president of information management at Raytheon, does see a lower number of students in the scientific fields, possibly resulting from cutbacks in the space program of the 1960s and 1970s. The next generation didn't have a program to aspire to, Dubois conjectured.

"We, as a nation, have to excite young people in sciences, engineering, physics and other technical fields. In the early 1990s, we started to see problems in the number of engineers graduating," he said.

In last year's robot competition, members of the Oakton team got job applications when they came to Raytheon.

"We had their team in last year to show us their robot," Dubois said.

ON JAN. 10, each of the teams got a box full of potential robot parts and the competition goals on what the robot was supposed to do. In this years' competition, the robot must move around the playing field, knocking off balls from designated areas, gather the balls and push them to the shooter on the team, who then shoots them in a basket. After that, the robot must latch onto the bar. Points are gained for each activity.

"We basically have a robot that can do anything," said Larry Marshall of EOIR Technologies.

Danny Pyun is the main shooter for the Hayfield team. Basketball is his hobby, so the team elected him to the shooter position. This is his first robot competition.

"I had no clue what it was. When I first thought of a robotics team, I thought of a manlike robot," Pyun said.

Buck Helmke of Mason Neck is in his third year of the robot competition. He plans to go to Virginia Commonwealth University next year. From his robot building experience, Helmke has learned leadership and organizational skills in addition to electronics, physics, propulsion, pneumatics and computer programming. He's one of the senior members on the team.

"The robots try to hang at the end to get points," Helmke said.

Mansoor Iqbal, a Kingstowne resident, is a junior member of the team.. He's in his first robot competition but is leaning toward a career in electronics. "I'm planning on doing electrical engineering," Iqbal said.