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Carderock hosts annual robotics competition

By Dustin Q. Diaz, NSWC Carderock Division Public Affairs | June 13, 2016

WEST BETHESDA, Md. — Students from area elementary schools brought their creativity and ingenuity to Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division for the 2016 Carderock LEGO Robotics Competition.

This year’s competition was Operation Carderock, a Carderock-themed challenge that included robot missions aimed at educating participants about the command and its work, according to Nathan Hagan, competition volunteer coordinator and naval architect with the Structural Criteria and Risk Assessment Branch (Code 654). Along with 2.5 minute matches at the “game board,” students also competed in a teamwork activity, robot design judging and presented their research project focused at identifying and solving Navy problems.

“Normally, we’ve done games that have been designed by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) and LEGO,” Hagan said. “LEGO designs the game and we just do it. For Operation Carderock, I designed all the missions. Then, with the help of volunteers, we built them. We are proud to finally have a Navy game of our own that reflects our culture here at Carderock.”

Though four schools participated in Operation Carderock, only two were able to attend the June 10 competition. Wood Middle School in Bethesda, Maryland, and Pyle Middle School in Rockville, Maryland competed previously at their own school facilities. At the Carderock competition, more than 50 students from Burning Tree Elementary School in Bethesda, Maryland, and Forest Edge Elementary School in Reston, Virginia, formed teams of 10, each with a robot they’d built and programmed with LEGO tools and software. Each team was scored on their ability to solve challenges with their robot, based around Carderock locations like the David Taylor Model Basin and the Maneuvering and Seakeeping (MASK) basin; their ability to work as a team; ability to communicate their design decisions regarding their robot; and presentation for a team-produced research project.

“When the schools visit, their favorite part of coming here is seeing the facilities. They’re here to see Carderock,” Hagan said. “So we thought it through and we decided if we were going to design a game, let’s make it be all about what we do.”

After the competition, the students toured Carderock’s facilities and learned how the command and its scientists and engineers support the fleet with their work. Carderock employees served as chaperones to keep the students safe and answer their questions. Ryan, a fourth grader competing with Techno Team, said seeing the 3-D printers in the Manufacturing, Knowledge and Education (MAKE) Lab was the highlight of the tour for him. “You can make anything you want. You can make it as colorful as you want and you can make as much as you want if you have the material,” he said.

This is the third time Carderock has hosted a LEGO robotics competition as part of its science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) outreach effort. Hagan said when he was a student like today’s competitors and wanted to design ships, he didn’t know how to go about pursuing it, so events like this are a useful resource for today’s students.

“The goal today is to get them oriented to Navy problems, Navy technical work and what we do here,” Hagan said. “The whole point of these STEM programs is outreach for the Navy, so we decided to direct it toward things that are our technical work, engineering problems that we have, so that the kids in elementary school can understand the real work a Navy engineer does. As outreach, this is a good education opportunity. At the end of this, 100 more kids will understand what a naval architect is and what naval engineers do.”

The Mindstormers of Forest Edge finished in third place, while the Road Ragers of Burning Tree came in second and the Techno Sharks of Forest Edge took first place in the 2016 Carderock LEGO Robotics Competition.