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USC Viterbi Hosts 4th Annual MESA Robotics Challenge

Middle and high schoolers from around Southern California bring their class-made robots to the USC campus

June 04, 2012 —

On Saturday, May 19, USC Viterbi hosted the 2012 MESA Robotics Challenge. In its fourth year at USC, the event featured twenty

A middle school team operates their robot for the judges.
middle school and twenty high school MESA (Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement) programs from around Southern California bringing their class-made robots to campus to compete in a variety of challenges. Comprised mainly of schools affiliated with USC’s K-12 MESA program, schools representing Cal State Long Beach, Chapman University, and the Imperial Valley MESA programs were also in attendance.
High school teams compete against one another to complete the task.

This year’s competition asked students to imagine the construction site of the future where robots assume the risk of dangerous tasks overseen by civil engineers and contractors. Taking a cue from Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, teams were asked to design and construct a robot to perform building tasks while also protecting human co-workers and themselves from “random” accidents with a construction vehicle.

Each school taking part in the competition was provided with a robot kit: middle schools with a LEGO kit and high schools with a kit which they were allowed to customize as they liked. On the day of the event, teams were required to bring a visual presentation for display, conduct an oral presentation before judges, and operate their robots to perform building tasks: picking up and stacking wooden blocks.

Before an audience of judges, peers and cheering families, middle school teams operated their robots independently, while high school teams competed four teams at a time. Each “field” in which the robots operated included balsawood blocks representing construction workers and roving iRobots serving as construction vehicles to navigate around. Around these obstacles and under a ticking clock, teams piloted their robots to move blocks to their designated building zones and stack them, all the while being evaluated by MESA staff and USC Viterbi students serving as judges.

“Our Robotics Challenge gives students a wonderful opportunity to compete against other students and have fun with robots,” said Larry Lim, Director of Pre-College Programs at USC Viterbi. “The program’s success is documented by the fact that some student teams rode the bus for two to four hours each way from San Diego and the Imperial Valley to get to USC!”

After half a day of head-to-head competition, the “A-Team” from Alhambra High School (a USC-MESA school) and the “Cyber Jags” from Wilmington Middle School (a Cal State Long Beach MESA school) were crowned victors. A team from Alhambra High’s MESA program was also the grand prize winner from the Los Angeles region in Microsoft’s recent Bliink website building competition, beating out a total of 68 teams.

USC MESA is affiliated with California MESA, an academic preparation program at colleges and universities that each year serves about 21,000 pre-college, community college and university students who are educationally disadvantaged. Seventy-four percent of MESA high school graduates statewide went directly to college after graduation compared to 41 percent of all California graduates. Sixty percent of MESA students go on to math, science or engineering majors.