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15 May 2012
RoboParade feature
Saturday we hosted the 2nd Roanoke Roboparade at the Science Museum of Western Virginia as part of the outreach for STEM in the Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council.

In this video you get a good feel for the event. We had about 70 folks attend, with a respectable amount of casual foot traffic stopping to see the parade. The Roanoke Robotics Club had several entries, and took some GREAT photos.

The video also shows my family at various points: Lisa is helping with workshops, Ethan appears in his panda hat, and Eric was featured as a Team 401 member with their basketball robot. I'm mostly with my back to the camera, helping build some robots in the workshops and announcing the parade.

Note the commentary at the end: Kalista's remarks about penguins eating you in your sleep brought the cameraman/interviewer to a halt!
Backstory: we were helping two sisters, ages 5 & 9, build a robot in the parade. Their mom told us that they had made a family decision to delay moving today in order to build a robot, which has been a dream of their daughters. As it turns out, their dad was so impressed with the activity that he drove in to work and got his camera gear- he's on the staff of Fox 21/27 news!

Original Fox 21/27 News Story on the Roanoke RoboParade

Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Councily RoboParade
ACI , Family , STEM
posted by  henry at  16:00 | permalink | trackbacks [399]

19 Mar 2012
Robot Competition Season
In the last two weeks, our family has been delighted to participate in two exciting state-level robot competitions!
March 3rd & 4th was the FIRST Tech Challange State competition. Ethan and the Tuxedo Pandas got their first look at this competition, and were delighted to finish 14th out out 24 in their division, plus be picked early for an alliance run-off team. Team 4924 is made of 5 Seventh graders, and 1 Eighth grader, competing against High-School teams from acrosss the state.
Here's a 14-minute video of our ALL DAY experience. Well, more like all year, since team 4924 is officially 1 year old today!

Then, last weekend, Eric participated with Team 401 in the FIRST Robotics Challenge Virginia regional competition, finishing 17th among 59 entries, and had the 4th highest hybrid-period score. This 2:15 minute clip briefly shows some of the field-level action. Team 401 is the tall robot you see in the clip still-frame below.

So what's next? Well, there's always something! Eric is going to the North Carolina FRC tournament in a few weeks, and Ethan's team is preparing for the Roanoke Robot Parade.
Roanoke Robot Parade: May 12th, 2012
Family , General , STEM
posted by  henry at  13:40 | permalink | trackbacks [166]

31 Dec 2011
Geocaching and Robotics Merit Badges
Remember when Boy Scouts were pictured holding signal flags atop a tower?

Although this image does predate my days in scouting, it was the common icon for Boy Scouts in the early 80's.

This Christmas Holiday, however, we got to participate in more modern scouting activities: teaching the newly approved Robotics Merit Badge (April 2011), and the Geocaching Merit Badge (approved in 2010).
Lisa, Eric and Ethan helped me put together a great program for 17 boys, competing in a short autonomous robot maze and object-dropoff competition. They flipped for it!

We also enjoyed introducing 10 boys to the sport of Geocaching. We logged their first cache, and launched three different trackables.

To see our trackables, visit:

Where could we do all this great stuff, plus 14 other merit badges? At the Claytor Lake Aquatic Base Winter Camp. Beautiful location, very good food (Really!), and an outstanding staff.

My prediction? Someday, the autonomous robot competition will rank alongside the Pinewood Derby!
Family , General , STEM
posted by  henry at  17:13 | permalink | trackbacks [72]

8 Dec 2011
FTC Regional Champions
Our team competed in the Regional FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) at the Southwest Virginia Community College on Saturday, December 3, 2011. Team 4924 was in second place going into the semifinals and will now advance to the State Level robotics state championship. FIRST “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” encourages students to pursue math and science careers through sports-like robotics competitions, building enthusiasm for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields (STEM).

Team 4924 members, aka “Tuxedo Pandas” include: Ethan Bass, Alexis Marchand, and Kallista Winters of CMS; Austin Downs, Adrian Ruvalcaba, and Kent Anderson of BMS.
Team Photo
(left to right) Kent Anderson, Alexis Marchand, Kallista Winters, Adrian Ruvalcaba, Ethan Bass, Austin Downs

They also won the third place Inspiration Award and first place Motivate Award as well were finalists for the PTC Design and Rockwell Collins Innovate awards. Team 4924 Head Coach was Franky Marchand along with assistants, Henry Bass, Paco Ruvalcaba, Michelle Winters, Dean Downs and Eric Anderson. Over the last six months, Team 4924 learned to cut metal, use a milling machine, bandsaw, drill-press and pop-rivet gun. They also learned about programming in C, and prototyping their designs before building.

Their robot, “LuLu” is named for the parallelogram arm used to grab crates. Team member Ethan Bass said, “We didn’t have the chance in this competition to put LuLu to full use. There were 100 loose racquetballs on the field, plus 3 other robots, making for a lot of craziness! We plan to improve our arm so that we can put crates of balls on top of LuLu, then raise the crates with our four-foot scissor jack.” Coach Franky Marchand pointed out that his team was a rookie team, with five seventh-graders and one eighth-grader pitted against high-school students. “We’re ecstatic to have placed second in the qualifying round, as well as our Inspiration and Motivate awards, with such a new team. We attribute this to our experience in FIRST Lego League.” FIRST Lego League is a related tournament for ages 9-14 using Lego.

FTC is designed for students who want to compete head to head, using a sports model. Teams are responsible for designing, building, and programming their robots to compete in an alliance format against other teams. Teams, including coaches, mentors and volunteers, are required to develop strategy and build robots based on sound engineering principles. Team 4924 has been working under the mentorship of the the Montgomery County FRC (FIRST Robotics Team) Team 401 at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center since August to design, prototype, use tools to build and log all work effort into an engineering logbook.

The State FTC Championship will be held in Richmond, Virginia on March 3, 2012.

Family , General , STEM
posted by  henry at  12:17 | permalink | comments [9] | trackbacks [159]

10 Nov 2011
Encouraging Science and Technology Education
I've long been a fan of promoting education and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Folks who know our family know that we have coached many robotics teams , and we're active in the local technology council as well as military STEM promotion.

I enjoyed this article on falling STEM numbers in USA Today on my iPad while working out at the Christiansburg Recreation Center.
Best quote: There is a global brain race, and the U.S. has been unilaterally disarming for years [Paul Saffo].

It's not all gloom, though. There are some bright spots, and we certainly want to continue promoting science as something really cool!

Followup, 11/14/2011: Eric and I exhibited with Team 401 at the Grand opening of the VT Collaboratory . Virginia Tech is making inroads in becoming the leading university in STEM programs. Mighty good!
ACI , Family , Startups , STEM
posted by  henry at  13:37 | permalink | trackbacks [1649]