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Texas students explore ocean depths

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Nearly 30 student teams created robots to explore the ocean depths for the second annual Central Texas FIRST LEGO League Tournament last month.

National Instruments , the NI Foundation, Kealing Middle School and AISD teamed up to bring this competition to Austin, where students, ages 9 to 14, were asked to create robots using LEGO Mindstorms and ROBOLAB programming software based on NI LabVIEW.

FIRST LEGO League, created through the partnership of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) and The LEGO Company in 1998, is a program that helps more than 60,000 young people worldwide discover the fun of science and technology by encouraging participants to construct fully autonomous robots.

This year's challenge, "Ocean Odyssey," featured a series of missions geared toward completing marine-related tasks, such as releasing a dolphin or deploying a submarine. Teams competed in the tournament by designing, building and programming robots with LEGO Mindstorms technology.

"FIRST LEGO League translates science and engineering into something exciting and hands-on that young people enjoy," said Ray Almgren, NI vice president of product marketing and academic relations.

"Through FIRST LEGO League, these young innovators see how they can make an impact in their communities by using creative thinking, teamwork and problem solving to explore tangible, important problems. We're excited to help bring this competition to Central Texas and give students the opportunity to experience the reward of engineering and innovation."

In addition to the robot game portion of the competition, teams also researched and presented information concerning a particular sea activity or resource and traced its impact on ocean health, biodiversity and productivity. Students interviewed local experts to create solutions to improve the use of this resource while minimizing the negative impact that use has on the oceans for present and future generations. Then, each team presented its conclusions and suggestions to a panel of judges during the competition.

Undersea United, a group of San Antonio home school students, received the prestigious Director's Award for the second year in a row. The team not only presented the best technical robot design, but it researched innovative approaches to solving water resource issues in its local community and best represented FIRST LEGO League values in its work. National Instruments will sponsor the team to compete nationally at the FLL World Festival in Atlanta this April.

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