RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — If the robot age ever comes to pass as author and visionary Isaac Asimov predicted long ago, one of the founders could be from Southeast Raleigh High School.

A team of 32 students came home with the national championship in the FIRST robotics competition over the April 15-17 weekend in Atlanta. The “Robodogs” — a spin-off of the school’s Bulldogs nickname — prevailed in a grueling, demanding competition against 300 teams and 7,000 students from around the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Brazil.

“This is unbelievable and very exciting,” says Debbie Kellogg, one of two faculty advisors for the team. “I believe that this is going to mean great things not only for our team but also for the ideals of FIRST in North Carolina.”

These high school students were true entrepreneurs in designing, building, marketing, fund raising and promoting their robot. The students, parents, faculty advisors and other volunteers worked for months before getting the big payoff. No athletic team put in more time, effort, sweat or intellectual capital than the Robodogs.

$60,000 investment

The various competitions and building the robot were not cheap. The team raised more than $60,000 — including more than $10,000 in a final push to underwrite the cost of the nationals. They also received advice and support from North Carolina State University and Cisco, including guidance from students and engineers who had attended Southeast.

The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) competition is the brainchild of Dean Kamen, whose latest invention is the Human Transporter. Kamen wants to spur more interest in science and technology among high school students.

That goal certainly was achieved at Southeast, where Robodogs spent months on the project and participating in other competitions in order to reach the national finals. Southeast has put together a robotics team since 1999, and making trips to the national finals has been a common event.

The Southeast team had six weeks to create a robot that could move around a basketball court-sized playing field to collect balls before passing them to human players. The humans had to shoot the balls into movable goals. The robots then had to retrieve the balls on their own.

Southeast earned bonus points by including a 12-foot extension arm that enabled its robot to hang from a 10-foot-high bar at midfield. No other team matched the Robodogs’ arm, Kellogg said.

John Toebes, senior manager of engineering at Cisco, accompanied the team to Atlanta and served as an advisor for graphics and software. “Teamwork is a key to success in any profession, especially engineering,” he said after the event. “I am very proud of these students for displaying the spirit of innovation and collaboration that will be required of them if they seek careers in technology and science.”

The teams

The Robodogs were divided into four teams:

  • Engineering: Responsible for designing and building the robot

  • Graphics: Responsible for producing a 30 second computer animation

  • Marketing: Responsible for public relations and fundraising

  • Operations: These managers run the team. It is program management
  • Kellogg had considerable praise for the parents of the students. “The students are the driving force behind every aspect of the team,” she says. “We also have very supportive parents and the Parents Division is the 5th Division of the team.”

    Team members included:

    Engineering: Stephen Alexieff; Logan Beach; Megan Daugherty; Yesaswi Doddapaneni; Kathryn Echerd; Kyle Foster; Tim Frein; Mike Gray; Samuel Johnson; Malcolm Jones; Matt Moore; Nicki Ostrishko; Daniel Peacock; Andrew Pogue; Robert Schroeder; Brian Shanks; Suzanne Tisdell; Matt Wiggins; Catherine Winn; Jordan Wright.

    Graphics: Jeff Gay; Jeffrey Ginsburg; Daniel Gong; Dorian Javidi; Harrison Kelly; Jacob Majikes; Josh Paye; Skyla Phillips.

    Marketing: Janera Fedrick; Katie Neel

    Operations: Daniel Giles; Marc Leyrer; Jessica Starr.

    If you want to learn more about the Robodogs, check out the following web sites:

    Southeast Raleigh High School: www.robodogs.srhs.net or www.usfirst.org

    Comments? Story ideas? Send them to rick@localtechwire.com. Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.