Trip to China does a world of good for robotics team

Benilde-St. Margaret's sent 14 recent graduates for a life-changing experience competing against experienced foes at the RoboCup World Championship.

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Fourteen 2008 Benilde-St. Margaret graduates made up the Red Knight RoboRescue Squad, the only team representing the United States in the Urban Search and Rescue League at the RoboCup World Championship this month in China.

The Benilde-St. Margaret's robotics team returned to the United States last week -- defeated, but not deterred -- after spending about a week in Suzhou, China, for the RoboCup World Championship tournament.

Fourteen 2008 graduates made up the "Red Knight RoboRescue Squad," the only team representing the United States in the Urban Search and Rescue League. Thirty countries were represented by teams mostly made up of Ph.D. and post-doctoral students, graduates and faculty.

BSM was the only high school in the competition and was accepted based on past performance. In 2005, it won the U.S. qualifier competition and placed in the top 10 at the world RoboCup.

The Red Knight RoboRescue Squad built a robot to overcome a series of obstacles, mirroring real-life uses of robots that rescue people from life-threatening situations. The rescue scenario was a building that had partially collapsed in an earthquake. The robot had to find survivors, then generate a map of the survivors' locations and give as many details as possible about their condition, so rescue workers would know how best to extract and stabilize them. The team was eliminated in the second round when their robot developed battery troubles.

Coach Timothy Jump said in an e-mail that the students gained the experience of a lifetime.

"As the kids interact with the members from the other teams ... [they] get a real-world learning experience from an international perspective," Jump said. "When you have top engineering universities from Japan and Iran coming to [the BSM students] to ask them about sensors and materials they have never seen, then they engage in discussions about what works and what could be looked at from a different world view, there is a growth that is both subtle and amazing."

The 2008 RoboCup was BSM's second world-class competition. The team finished 10th in the world at the 2005 tournament in Osaka, Japan.

Philip Leiter, a 2008 BSM graduate, wrote on the BSM blog (www.bsm-online.org/acs_trip.aspx) about competing with people from all over the world:

"No other place in the world can I experience this: all of the knowledge, technology, and innovation. This has opened our eyes and minds to a world -- a world where all the people gather to increase each other's understanding and solve each other's problems.

"This is why we are here; this is our purpose. We need to work together as a world. The energy in the room powers our minds to such an extent that possibilities are limitless.

"This competition is more than an achievement that will be on our résumés. It is the experience that we will tell our children, of how it all started before we cured cancer, before we turned the CO2 we emit to energy that powers our homes."

Another highlight of the China trip was a special request from a former Microsoft executive who is working with a relief organization to supply aid to earthquake victims in Sichuan province, Jump said. Part of his work is to provide summer camps and care for thousands of children while the adults clean up and rebuild. The Red Knight RoboRescue Squad was going to bring their robot to the city of Mianyang and present it to the kids at a camp, but the plans were aborted when an infectious disease broke out at the camp.

Still, Jump said, "The opportunity that arose out of our being here and participating is just another example of how opportunity favors the prepared and the willing."

Aimee Blanchette • 612-673-1715

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