By Chanda Gonzales
Chanda is the Education Director for the Google Lunar X PRIZE.
By way of quick introduction, I would not consider myself a space journalist, but I do consider myself a space enthusiast. I have the great pleasure to work at a place that I like to call Disneyland for Space Nerds: the X PRIZE Foundation. It's where I manage education programs for the Google Lunar X PRIZE. I would like to highlight one particular educational competition project that I manage called MoonBots.
MoonBots is a competition where students all over the world, ages 9-17, compete to win a challenge much like the Google Lunar X PRIZE using a LEGO MINDSTORMS kit. The Google Lunar X PRIZE is a competition where teams of scientists from around the world are competing to put the first privately funded robot on the Moon and complete a series of tasks. We ask our MoonBots teams to address these issues in lunar exploration using only LEGO MINDSTORMS robots. If you are not familiar with LEGO MINDSTORMS, the best way to describe it is a robot that you can build and program in an infinite number of ways, which you can use to overcome any number of obstacles. LEGO says that you can build and program the robot in as little as 30 minutes, but I think our fans spend days and weeks perfecting and pushing these robots to the limits of their capabilities.
So, back to the competition.
During the spring of this year, we had 147 teams from 22 countries register. This is our third annual contest and, as we have had in previous years, teams of students with little to no experience with robotics (from groups like Girl Scouts, low-income after-school centers and home schools) compete against students with master skills in what we like to call "Phase One." During this phase of the challenge, the kids don't do anything with the robot at all. All they have to do is submit ideas for what their robot playing field would look like, which we call the ultimate lunar landscape, where they would share their demonstration, and with whom. They are also tasked with completing a fully produced video segment introducing themselves and telling us about their interest in lunar exploration.
You might think lunar exploration might not seem interesting with all the recent popularity of the Mars landing, but these kids understand that without lunar exploration, landing on Mars would not even be possible. It was fascinating to see them discuss topics like "why the Google Lunar X PRIZE is important to the future of the Moon" and "why they think the heritage artifacts on the Moon should be left alone or claimed." Apart from their opinions on lunar topics, these kids have a real passion for space exploration and show us that critical thinking is ever apparent in this generation of youth.
So what's next? Well, it was a difficult decision, but our team of judges narrowed it down to 30 finalists that will move on to "Phase 2" of the competition. These teams are not only diverse in age, but come from all parts of the world. They are: Anthem-A-tronics (Anthem, Arizona); Apollo 19 (Escondido, California); Atlantic MoonBots (Vila Do Porto, Portugal); Atomic Robot (Hyderabad, India); Brick Buddies Explorers (Austin, Texas); Clockwork Mania (McDonough, GA); Cyborgs in Crescent (New Delhi, India); Dash 2 the Moon (San Jose, California); DragonBots (Santiago, Chile); Electro Llamas (Beachwood, New Jersey); Fish in the Boat (Lakeville, Minnesota); Gladiators (Kayangan Heights, Malaysia); Greatest Kall (Smyrna, Georgia); HungaroBots (Sopron, Hungary); Incredibots (Columbus, Ohio); Iron Reign (Dallas, Texas); Milkybots (Santiago, Chile); Model Scout Robotics (Plano, Texas); Moon Crafters (Hollis, New Hampshire); Moon Riders (Singanallur Coimbatore, India); MoonBlazers (Sunnyvale, California); Nebulans (Alexandria, Egypt); Plan B Robotics (Irvine, California); Robotic Alliance (Eldersburg, Maryland); RTRM (Nizhny Novgorod, Russia); SMART FOX (Alexandria, Egypt); Team Starling (Ballwin, Missouri); The Penguin Men (Seattle, Washington); Titanium Springboks (Pretoria, South Africa); and X-Treme Team (Indio, California).
The finalists will be provided with a LEGO MINDSTORMS robot and resources to build their lunar landscape that will serve as the competition's 'playing field.' Check out Google Lunar X PRIZE in the next few months to see live demonstrations from these teams. We always enjoy watching with anticipation and excitement as the field is narrowed and a champion emerges to conquer the Google Lunar X PRIZE LEGO MINDSTORMS Challenge.