The Arlington Neobots are not like other high school technology clubs. For one thing they have access to a phenomenal pool of mentors from local technology companies like Boeing, Microsoft and now Datalight. They also have a growing number of female members, a rarity in youth organizations oriented to math and science.
Founded in 2008 with seed money from Boeing, the team competes in an annual robot building competition created by national non-profit organization FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), and this year the competition is already ramping up. For 2012, FIRST has challenged the robotics teams to a game similar to basketball called Rebound Rumble. Six teams are split up into two alliances of three; one alliance is blue and the other red. During the 2-minute and 15-second match, teams compete by trying to make as many baskets as they can. Part of the match is devoted to a 15-second autonomous mode where the robot is controlled through an XBox Kinect instead of the robot's standard remote control. There are four hoops - one high, two middle, and one low. The higher the hoop, the more points awarded for making a basket in it.
The Neobots will need to work together in teams to finish their robot by the competition deadline. First, the one-week design phase involves team analysis of the game and its rules manual, and a group decision on game strategy and design criteria for the team robot. Next, the team will split into design groups to brainstorm, research and present their findings to the team. Then, using 3D models and prototypes, each group will propose a robot design to be voted on by the team. After the design is established, the build phase involves again breaking into sub-groups that are each assigned projects like System Integration, Programming, and Drive-Base, and other functions. The team will follow an iterative process; every major milestone will be tested rigorously before they proceed.
You might ask why Datalight would sponsor a high school robotics club. VP of Engineering Ken Whitaker puts it this way; "This is one of the most important things we can do as a technology company. What you're seeing in its raw form is the next generation of embedded engineers, and we have a responsibility to nurture and support them. In a few years time I could see any of these motivated students ending up on my engineering team."