DOWNEY – The Cosmic Vikings, a team of Computer Science students from Downey High School, have qualified to compete in the International Space Station (ISS) finals in the Zero Robotics 2017 tournament that will take place in January.
The team, advised by Downey High Computer Science teacher Michael Crosby, is led by team captain Akhil Sharma and consists of Jose Cisneros, Earldrene Dubongco, Noah Palacios, Chance Perkins and Evan Saracay.
The goal of this tournament is to build critical engineering skills for student competitors that include problem solving, operations training, design thought process and team work.
he Zero Robotics tournament is organized by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in partnership with NASA which opens the world-class research facilities on the ISS to high school students. In Zero Robotics, student teams write programs in the computer language, C++, to control satellites online in a game that is driven by a current problem of interest to DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), NASA and MIT. This student written software controls satellite speed, rotation, direction of travel, etc.
Contingent upon the game premise, students must program their satellites to complete game objectives (navigate obstacles, pick up virtual objects, etc.) while conserving resources (fuel, charge, etc.) and staying within specified time and code-size limits. The programs are "autonomous," meaning they are preprogrammed and students cannot control the satellites during the test itself.
This year’s challenge was to get the satellites to assemble other satellites while competing with a rival in gathering the building blocks. The game enhances student’s skill in core subjects such as coding, math and physics, and in addition, promotes “soft-skills” in strategy, team-work and leadership. This is the second year Downey High has qualified to participate in the contest.
The tournament began in September and in the initial phase, the teams had to compete through a series of 2-Dimension challenges that then excelled into 3-D challenges. The competition is open internationally and this year’s competitors consisted of 232 teams from all ISS member countries (USA, Canada, Australia, Italy, Germany, France and Russia). Last year, a total of 174 teams competed in the Zero Robotics tournament.
In November, the top 28 teams moved to the “Alliance Round” where the game was crafted to be even more complex. Downey High’s team joined the alliance of two other teams: Cora’s Eleven from Liceo G.B. Brocchi High School in Italy and Tachyons from Saratoga High School in Saratoga, California. MIT encouraged all alliances to submit their code online each day and these would be run in simulations to determine their rankings.
Only 14 alliances were declared as finalists. The alliance that included Downey High, coined Cosmic TaCo, finished ranked 13th and have been invited to travel to MIT to participate in the ISS finals. This final competition, held in January, is a live championship aboard the ISS that will be broadcast live. An astronaut will run the Cosmic TaCo’s code to compete with other alliances in microgravity and the ultimate results of this competition will be announced in mid-February.
More details on Zero Robotics can be found at http://zerorobotics.mit.edu/.