Florida Sharks Step Up Their Game, Play Frisbee

Verizon’s Information Technology organization and its international community outreach program recently scored another successful science, technology, engineering and mathematics [STEM] experience for at-risk children as the Brandon, Fla., Boys and Girls Club “Robosharks” team greatly improved its performance in the 22nd annual Florida First Robotics Competition (FRC).

This was the third year that the Brandon Club participated in the FRC competition. This year’s team had a better than 100 percent improvement over its finish in the previous two years’ competitions. A team of five, representing the 11 total participants at the Club, competed in a game called “Ultimate Ascent,” which was initially revealed to them by the FRC during the first week of January.

The team, aided by volunteer mentors from Verizon’s Florida IT division and supported by other donors, met twice a week for the allotted eight weeks to develop a robot in the Larger Robots division designed to meet the challenge of launching Frisbees at a set of targets, both eye-level and higher.

“The goal of our outreach program is to demystify the knowledge and skills needed to pursue technical careers by offering students hands-on experience through this robotics program,” said Arnold Coleman, Verizon’s director for its IT international outreach program. “We are so pleased at the excitement this program has generated and, more importantly, at what the students have learned and been able to accomplish.”

Robots could not be more than 150 pounds, have a circumference greater than 112 inches or be taller than 84 inches. Robots were built from a reusable, modular platform, and teams had a choice of two programming languages. The robot covered two of three possible tasks expected of “competitors” in the Larger Robots division – autonomous and tele-operating modes.

Students learned to build a fully functional robot capable of navigating with programmed commands; reporting sensor status with light and sound; and escaping contact by touch using whisker sensors. This escape capability was critical as other teams were allowed to impede competing robots as all navigated the course.

Just as important were the rudimentary skills the team learned – for example, what a Phillip’s head screw looked like; the difference between a flat head and a Phillip’s head screwdriver; which way to turn a screw to tighten or loosen it; how to transfer commands to code; and the value of teamwork.

“If we inspire even one child to continue to pursue information technology or engineering as a career, that is great, but there may be other productive outcomes that are just as valuable,” said Coleman.

Verizon is using its technology to address big challenges in education, health care and energy management. In education, we’re leveraging our technology and our expertise to help improve teaching and learning, encouraging students’ interest in STEM content areas. For example, Verizon last fall launched a national app design challenge, in which students used technology to address a social issue in their community or school.

More information about how we’re applying innovative technologies to solve important issues can be found at http://responsibility.verizon.com/.