Zero Robotics Second Year Success

Zero Robotics Second Year Success
Posted on 11/05/2018
For the second consecutive summer, Montclair students had the opportunity to participate in the Zero Robotics competition, a collaboration between NASA and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, designed to cultivate innovation and coding abilities in middle school students. The competition requires students to program a virtual robot to autonomously complete tasks; thus, making decisions on its own during the multi-round competition. MIT originally invented the “Scratch” programming language to introduce coding concepts to younger students, but it has since evolved into other variations aimed at elementary, middle, and high school levels.

Each yearly iteration of the Zero Robotics competition requires students to program virtual SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold Engage Reorient Experimental Satellites) to perform scientific tasks. This year’s competition required the SPHERES to locate areas of high-ore concentration samples on the surface of Mars using an X-Y coordinate plane and without the use of any visual indicators. The students collaborated to write a program that instructed the robot to analyze specific coordinate points until it narrowed down the location of the 100% ore sample.

“MIT wanted us to find life on one of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus. We solved this problem by using conditional statements like “if-then-” and used loops such as “until-do-,” said Buzz Aldrin student Joshua Stout. “Our code uses states to control the SPHERES movements and capabilities like drilling and going to base. We also used variables to control how the states are used.”

Although the group did not make it to the final round of the competition, they were the only team in the national competition to write a code that successfully located the 100% sample in a randomized environment. In other words, Montclair’s SPHERE was “smart.”

Added Renaissance student Molly Ryder, “I learned how to use a graphical editor order to create a program for use in the Zero Robotics Competition. We used variables and “if-then” statements in order to make SPHERES score as many points as possible.”

Under the tutelage of Montclair High School Physics teacher Kevin Sampson, students learned and used conditionals and customized functions, two important elements of coding, to program the bot for the tasks it was challenged to complete. The program itself must also be constructed within a specific code-size limit. In coding, as with writing, it is important to find the most concise format to efficiently convey a set of instructions or ideas.

“During this year’s Zero Robotics Academic Program, I had tons of fun,” said Buzz Aldrin student Peter Emero. “It was amazing having such a great team leader as Mr. Sampson. I especially liked the coding portion, as I enjoy Scratch and other coding things similar to that. I hope I get to do this amazing program again next year and that I learn as much as I’ve learned this year.”
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