MN students to compete in RoboCup

June 11, 2010

Eye on Faith and Science

BSM RoboCup competitors. From left: Kelsey Hennen, Drew Frenz, Claire Leiter, Alesandro Cecere and Patrick Black.

In the church, we typically think of service in terms of the many wonderful pastoral ministries provided by our parishes and dioceses.

But science offers a way to serve people as well, and a group of students at a Twin Cities-area school is working on a project that could ultimately help a lot of people and help the students win international recognition as well.

Five recently graduated seniors from Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in St. Louis Park, Minn., are heading to Singapore June 19-25 for the RoboCup Junior competition.

The students — Patrick Black, Alesandro Cecere, Drew Frenz, Kelsey Hennen and Claire Leiter — are competing in the RoboCup Search and Rescue League, in which participants design and program robots to enter mock disaster scenes and search for victims using advanced technology, such as thermal sensors and infrared cameras.

BSM qualified for the international contest at a national competition in March at Duke University. Other competitors are coming from Germany, Japan, Iran and Thailand.

Right now, team members are busy “testing, evaluating, redesigning, retesting [and] re-evaluating” the robot they will be taking with them, said instructor Timothy Jump.

There are real-world applications for the work the BSM team is doing.

“The key is to develop . . . systems that rescue services can afford and can be rapidly deployed when called upon to try and locate survivors when a disaster strikes,” Jump said.

Team members were part of the school’s Advanced Competitive Science program, which offers engineering courses. One of the goals of ACS is to develop higher levels of interest and participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, Jump said.

The ACS program has already designed its own micro-controller — something that it markets and sells to other groups.

When I asked Jump how the ACS program might contribute to the broader dialogue between faith and science, he noted that both areas share a common hope: improving life for everyone.

“With engineering, I think the connection between faith and service to our fellow man is huge,” he said. “How do we help bring clean water to people, clean up oil spills, feed, clothe? . . . These are all engineering challenges.”

This will be the third international competition for a BSM team. In 2005, team members placed 10th. In 2008, the team experienced “catastrophic failures,” Jump said. In both cases, BSM was competing at the senior level against college-age competitors.

The junior level this year should be a better fit for the students and give the school an opportunity to investigate the program “to see if it is worth partnering with the junior level to grow a stronger program and develop more teams in the USA,” Jump said.

“This gets into our mission to try and spread the success of what we have developed with the ACS program to other schools,” he added.

Here’s hoping for a safe trip and a successful competition!

About Joe Towalski

Editor of The Catholic Spirit, husband, dad, baseball fan(atic), astronomy buff. Follow me on Twitter @towalskij

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