The quality of education, especially the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (frequently abbreviated as STEAM) are regularly raised topics in American politics and media. It’s in the context of concerns about the United States education system that the Falcon Robotics program becomes so inspiring. The program provides the opportunity to gain experience in STEAM fields to the often disadvantaged students of the inner city Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, Arizona. The students have applied these skills to numerous competitions, and the results are nothing short of amazing! The story is so spectacular that the program is now the subject of both a documentary and a feature length movie!
The Falcon Robotics story starts in 2001 when it was created by Allen Cameron and Fredi Lajvardi to introduce students at Carl Hayden High School to science and technology and show them the limitless applications of these skills. The first few years focused on the famous FIRST robotics competition, and it wasn’t until 2004 that the program decided to explore other competitions. It was the year the team decided to contend in the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) competition.
With a team of just four students and their two mentors, they managed to construct a submersible out of PVC pipe and other affordable materials that could perform the tasks required for the competition. Despite the material disadvantages, the students compensated with daring engineering decisions and quick wits. When confronted with a leak in the pelican case housing the electrical components, the students responded with the genius and MacGyver-esque solution of using a tampon to prevent future leaks from damaging the electronics. It was their determination to work through the issues and perform their very best that kept them in the competition. The competition was no slouch either; with teams from renowned technical universities such as MIT.
Despite being outmatched in both the size of their team and resources available to construct their robot, Falcon Robotics held their own. They placed third in the underwater challenge, and performed phenomenally in the documentation and verbal defence stages. None the less, they were still shocked to learn that their combined performance was enough to secure not only the judges’ special prize (a last minute addendum), but also to win in the design, technical writing, and overall categories. The team, for which the term underdog is an understatement, had managed to beat some of the best and brightest engineering students in the United States.
The Falcon Robotics story continues to this day. The team has since competed in two more MATE ROV competitions, and three RoboSub Autonomous Underwater Vehicle competitions hosted by the AUVSI Foundation. It was with the first AUVs that Phidgets began sponsoring Falcon Robotics by providing numerous Phidgets products to help the team easily and reliably control their submersible. The AUV placed 8th out of 36 teams in the 2013 RoboSub competition.
In addition to the submersible competitons, Falcon Robotics is still active in FIRST Robotics, and has a team that just finished competing in the FIRST Robotics Aerial Assist Championships in St. Louis where they placed 20th out of 100. We encourage everyone to show their support on facebook and twitter.