The Del Rio (Texas) High School robotics team, sponsored and mentored in part by Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems LLC, reached the highest level of its competitive arena this spring, taking part in the FIRST Championship April 24-27 in St. Louis, Mo. Del Rio's team, "TRikzR4kiDz," finished in the top third of its 100-team field.
Founded by inventor Dean Kamen in 1989, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) aims to inspire young people's interest and participation in science, engineering and technology. The annual FIRST Robotics Competition challenges high school teams to design, build and program a robot that competes head-to-head with others – both autonomously and under human control – in an arena-based game.
Bendix, the North American leader in the development and manufacture of leading-edge active safety technologies, energy management solutions and braking system technologies, has supported FIRST programs in Del Rio schools since 2012. Bendix has provided robotics kits for younger students participating in elementary school projects, and given financial and mentorship support for the 2013 high school team.
Ricardo Bermea, a test engineer at Bendix's nearby Acuña, Mexico manufacturing campus, helped mentor the Del Rio team, working with the students to program the robot.
"They're taking classes in engineering, so they were being taught these methods, and then applying them in this robot build," Bermea said. "We worked closely with members of the Bendix electronics team, asking them how parts were connected, what sensors they were using, and what output they expected. Then the programming students and I designed the software controllers for the robots to perform the tasks."
The Del Rio robotics team consists of 30 students, two engineering teachers and seven mentors. The group qualified for the FIRST Championship in just its second year of existence.
Bermea, a 2002 Del Rio graduate who earned his college degree in mechatronic engineering and joined Bendix in 2010, said the lessons often exceeded the scope of the project, offering the chance to explain to students how the knowledge is put to use in real-world engineering work.
Bendix Acuña design engineer Poul Toxqui also volunteered his time to mentor the Del Rio team. Toxqui joined Bendix in 2010 and is currently enrolled in the company's Technical Skills Enhancement Program (TSE), studying mechatronics through the Bendix partnership with Rochester Institute of Technology.
"The importance of engineers in driving Bendix to the forefront of the highway safety and technology industry cannot be overstated and we are always excited to be a part of encouraging future engineers and promoting innovation," said Richard Beyer, Bendix vice president of engineering and R&D. "We are also very proud of our employees who volunteer and enrich student opportunities in their communities, strengthening the places in which we live and work."
More than 2,500 FIRST teams from around the world participated in this year's contest, with 400 qualifying for the championship in St. Louis. Qualifiers were divided into 100-team fields and Del Rio's team finished 29th in its group.