MANILA,  April 12, 2009 (BULLETIN) By MELVIN G. CALIMAG - Delighted that its knowledge in robotics technology is at par with the rest of the world, the Philippine scientific sector has cited the recent victory of a team of high school students in a robotics competition in Hawaii, USA.

In a recent press conference, top officials of the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) paid tribute to Team Lagablab which recently collared two rookie awards at the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) in Honolulu. FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

The contingent, composed of 20 junior students from the Philippine Science High School, will now move on to the championship in Atlanta, Georgia where it is slated to compete in the rookie category with other regional winners. The Philippine team, which fielded a robot named Larry Labuyo, was the sole ASEAN participant in the Hawaii regional preliminaries held last March 26.

It trounced six other high school teams from the United States in achieving the “Highest Rookie Seed Award,” which is given to the neophyte team that accumulates the best score at the end of the qualifying rounds.

The squad also won the “Rookie All-Star Award,’’ which is presented to a new team that exemplifies a young but strong partnership effort. It is this award which earned the team a shot at the FRC finals on April 16 to 18, 2009.

The only other neophyte award – Rookie Inspiration – went to a team from Mexico.

Overall, the Philippine team ranked 17th out of the 33 competing teams with an aggregate score of five wins, five losses, and a draw. Most of its losses, however, came at the hands of veteran teams which have participated in the contest in the past.

FRC, founded in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen, features a new game every year for students to solve using a common kit of parts from which they are asked to build a robot that would perform based on the rules of the game.

For this year, the students engaged in a game called “Lunacy,”which simulates the conditions in the moon. The objective of the game is to place as many “moon rocks,” which came in the form of rubberized rattan balls, into the trailer of the opponent in 2 minutes and 15 seconds.

[PHOTO AT LEFT - PINOY ROBOT Larry Labuyo, the robot created by PSHS students, is seen here prior to its deployment in Hawaii. It is now in Atlanta, Georgia where it will participate in the championship round]

The Philippine team’s Labuyo robot showed its prowess in the Hawaii regional tilt by dumping seven moon rocks to an opponent’s robot trailer in three seconds.

DoST secretary Estrella Alabastro said during the briefing that the participation of the Philippines in the robotics contest allowed the country to “benchmark” itself from other advanced countries in robotics technology.

“Hopefully, this will also inspire students to choose a career in science and engineering,” she said, noting that the number of engineers in the Philippines is under the U.N. standard.

The science agency, which partly funded the team’s trip to Hawaii, is again collecting donations to finance the Lagablab’s journey to Atlanta worth about P3 million.

Edwin Sybingco, an engineering professor at De La Salle University in Manila and one of team’s coaches, said the Philippines, despite being the youngest team in the competition, was able to ambush some of the veterans on its way to clinching its victories.

To run the robot, Sybingco said the students created a program with a software called LabView that organizers provided as part of the registration package. LabView, he said, was built by American firm National Instruments for use in controlling precision equipment.

“This contest, in effect, is like an on-the-job training for students who can now use or manipulate this programming tool once they decide to become engineers or part of the manufacturing industry,” Sybingco said.

He added that the participation of the Philippines also allowed the team members to vie for scholarship opportunities offered in the event, which, incidentally did not offer cash prizes.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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