Day 1 of the 2010 NC FIRST Robotics Competition

My brief career as a robot inspector

Fuentek’s Danielle McCulloch inspects a robot at the 2010 NC FIRST Robotics Competition.

Technology, teamwork and teaching moments. That is what I experienced as a robot inspector at the NC FIRST Robotics Competition Regional Tournament on April 1. This was my first time doing something like this, and it was a fantastic experience and full of surprises.

As a robot inspector, I evaluated robots prepared by 49 teams of high school students from as far away as Brazil to make sure they conformed to many restrictions for weight, size, structure, electronics and even cost. All teams started with a standard “kit of parts,” and they could add to it with commercial, off-the-shelf components or self-fabricated parts. But the total cost of the robot could not exceed $3,500, and no single component could cost more than $400.

Having to stay within so many constraints was a dose of practical reality that was just one of the many details that make this such a great event.

The teamwork was another pleasant surprise. Yes, it’s a competition, but because the students form three-team alliances for the qualification rounds as well as the final competition, there’s incentive to work together. On multiple occasions, I saw members of one team helping another team make last-minute adjustments to their robots (sometimes at the on-site machine shop) so they could pass inspection.

The students’ technical knowledge, not to mention their “gracious professionalism” and cooperation, has been impressive.

I’m also glad I participated because of the girls. Sure, there are fewer of them here than there are boys—which was very much the case when I got my chemical engineering undergraduate degree at Washington University—but there’s definitely a strong contingent of very involved young women.

I don’t want to dwell on the fact that I’m the only female inspector, but I’m really glad I was there so they can see that, yes, real women are engineers.

I know it’s hard to imagine going indoors when the weekend is so beautiful, but if you can, go to Dorton Arena on Friday or Saturday and check out the robots. They’re very cool.

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Posted by Danielle McCulloch

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