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Students Take Computer Programs to Space

By: Suzanne Wilson Email
By: Suzanne Wilson Email

January 15, 2013

After months of computer programming, a team of five Charlottesville High School students from the "Best All Around Club of Nerds", also known as BACON, traveled to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to show off their skills.

Kate Seidel, a senior at CHS, said, "Graduate students at MIT built these robots called SPHERES, they are about the size of a soccer ball. They fly around on the International Space Station (ISS) and NASA uses them to test out technology."

MIT and NASA have teamed up to hold national high school "Zero Robotics" competitions. The students control robots in a video game setting to simulate how to more the actual robots in space.

Seidel stated, "When you write the code, it's not like a bunch of people sitting around with joy sticks telling your spheres to go different directions. You have to tell your robot, if you've found this lost satellite then you can move on to the next part of the game."

Essentially, the faster the robot performs it's tasks in the video game, the more points teams get. "So, in this case, we were writing instructions for our robots to be cleaning up dust clouds of debris in space and gathering lost satellites," said Seidel.

Caroline Hylton, a senior at CHS, described the computer program as it was playing, "The red cloud you see over there is debris we are spreading when we start out with the code. So, we grab the satellite, go straight to the refuel pack and go straight for the end."

The final result for Team BACON was a second place win in the competition out of nearly 100 teams.

Hylton said, "We got to the final competition where there's actually guys aboard the International Space Station with the robot and we're telling them exactly what to do and it's doing it all on it's own. It's a little scary but it's also really awesome."

Out of the 100 teams that participated during the fall semester, the top 18 teams were invited to MIT to have their codes run on the actual robots in the ISS.

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