The phenomenon that is known as "March Madness" is winding down; NCAA basketball games are now just a manageable number as we watch the continued progression to men's and women's national champions. But on Saturday, March 17, the concept of March Madness was alive and in full swing on the Purdue campus. Even the weather was insane—a few days before the Equinox, temperatures were in the 70s and 80s for the great elimination round competitions due to square off in the games of roundball. The teams were prepared to fill the nets, the fans were loud and engaged in the stands, and the referees were ready to manage the clock timing and check for fouls. The anticipation is great as we prepare for… autonomous mode!
INSGC is proud to be a sponsor of the annual Boilermaker Regional competitions of FIRST Robotics (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), held in the Purdue Armory during Friday and Saturday of the university's Spring Break. It is truly amazing to see over 2000 high school students, teachers, parents, and other participants come to watch the competitions every year. In fact, attendance was down a bit this year… because the fire marshal was concerned about too many people in the pits and stands.
|INSGC logo during the FIRST Qualification Round, Saturday morning. The bleachers represent less than ¼ of the crowd; beyond the screen is the pit area.|
This year's competition, entitled Rebound RumbleSM, highlights "coop-etition" with robots designed to shoot foam basketballs at hoops for 1-3 points, and then balance on teeter-totters for additional scoring. I have always been amazed at the FIRST competitions, not just from the innovation and creativity of each year's event, but the variety and ingenuity that high school teams generate in only 6-8 weeks between contest announcement and Regional events. (Rebound RumbleSM was announced on January 7, in a ceremony including George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and will.i.am along with Dean Kamen, and carried on NASA TV.)
One of the enjoyments I have of attending the Boilermaker Regional is that INSGC is not a sponsor of any one team. No matter who does well, I can enjoy it. So, it's easy to get excited about a well-crafted range sensing and guidance mechanism, an effective multi-shot loft mechanism, or even the clever team that decided that just a hollow tube that pours balls into the 1-point hoop was an effective and low-risk scoring mechanism. In other words, it is everything that an engineer could love about requisite variety in problem solving and pathways to solution. Shoot the ball!
|Robot from FIRST Team 868 (Carmel, IN TechHOUNDS) shoots free throws during autonomous mode.|
Unfortunately, I couldn't stay for the whole event, as I had another basketball event to attend. Yes, at the same time as FIRST, and just a few hundred yards away in Mackey Arena, Purdue was also hosting the first round of the NCAA Women's Basketball tournament. Purdue was playing their first round game against South Dakota State, and as a very loyal season ticket holder, I needed to attend that game, too. Of course, I was a lot more invested and focused on which team won that one… Purdue came out on top there, too, with a record-breaking shooting performance.
|Purdue player KK Houser shoots a free throw against South Dakota State.|
However, I'm not here as a sportswriter. I'm here to express my appreciation for the Purdue FIRST student organization, who began with a dream to bring FIRST teams to the university, and then to host a regional competition, and to support K-12 engagement and STEM education excitement in Indiana. Anytime you can fill the bleachers for robots, while two Miss Indiana basketball stars are playing just down the street, that's a fantastic accomplishment. A slam dunk, if you will.