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 2016 tournament on Jan. 27.
This team, advised by Downey High computer science teacher Michael Crosby, is led by team captain Akhil Sharma and consists of Daniel Castellon, Alex Amparan, Earldrene Dubongco, Andres Guadro.
The Zero Robotics competition is organized by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in partnership with NASA. This yearly competition consists of two tournaments, one for middle school and one for 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 pre-programmed 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 against a rival in gathering the building blocks. The game enhances students' skill in core subjects such as coding, math and physics; and in addition, promotes “soft-skills” in strategy, team-work and leadership.
Downey High participated in the contest for the first time, gathering a few Computer Science students together to compete and test their programming skills.
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 174 teams from all ISS member countries (USA, Canada, Australia, Italy, Germany, France and Russia).
In November, the top 84 teams moved to the “Alliance Round” where the game was crafted to be even more complex. Downey High’s team, being ranked higher, led an alliance of two other teams: Gosford High School from Australia and West Lafayette High School from Indiana.
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 finally declared as finalists. The alliance led by Downey High finished ranked 13th and have been invited to travel to MIT to participate in the ISS finals. This final competition, held on Jan. 27, is a live championship aboard the ISS that will be broadcast live.
An astronaut will run the Cosmic Vikings’ code to compete with other alliances in microgravity and the final results of this competition will be announced in mid-February.
More details on Zero Robotics can be found at; http://zerorobotics.mit.edu/