Student leads team into robot combat

DU student Kathy Geise led her troops into the “robot wars” and emerged unscathed and wiser.

Geise, a 48-year-old mother in her 10th year of working part time toward a bachelor’s degree in physics, led a troop of area high school students into a national robot construction and competition program called For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics.

Weeks of toil all came down to the big showdown against more than 40 teams from the Rocky Mountain region at DU’s Ritchie Center March 28–29. When the circuits cleared, the intrepid band of students drawn from numerous high schools had fared well, winning four matches, losing four and tying once. The team finished in 19th place out of 42 teams.

Geise and a collection of mentors and volunteers helped the teens design and construct the 100-pound “LanceABot,” nicknamed for the team of “freelancers” drawn from several high schools instead of just one. The competition required each team to control their robots in an enclosed arena, pushing and shoving past other robots to control giant rubber balls and move them around the course for points.

“Our robot met all of our design goals, and the robot-build project was completed on time and within budget,” Geise says. “We are especially pleased that LanceABot scored during autonomous mode, the unmanned portion of each round. Programming robot code was a big step for our young team.”

The air was electric during the two-day competition. Many teams brought cheering squads to the arena, high school mascots danced on the sidelines and rock music blared from speakers while announcers called the play-by-play and spectators gawked at the action broadcast on giant overhead screens.

“The team members have acquired science, engineering, programming, construction and team skills that will last them a lifetime,” says volunteer mentor Steve Holland.

Geise says LanceABot is “retired” from the ring and will go on tour, visiting local schools and Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum to get other students interested in the FIRST Robotics challenge. And she says the team will meet throughout the year to get ready for the next competition.

“Team members are already thinking about ways to improve for next season,” Geise says. “Don’t be surprised to see LanceABot and his friend, Gwen-a-Gear, tooling around the University of Denver campus on occasion.”

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