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A Day at the Robotics Challenge

On Thursday, Eric Egland packed his two young sons into a car for the six-hour drive from their San Francisco home to the Fairplex in Pomona. None of them wanted to miss the first day of the DRC Finals. "It's neat that the kids can see that this isn't like a movie where everything just happens, but these are really hard engineering challenges," Egland said, referring to the reality check between robots in Hollywood productions and the state-of-robotic-art that they were witnessing from the Fairplex Grandstands during the first day of the Finals.

Both Egland boys at the DRC, Noah and Daniel, who are 9 and 8 years old respectively, say they now want to be robot engineers when they grow up. At the Expo, the two-day gala of robot and technology displays, demonstrations and exhibitions just outside the Grandstands, the boys got some hands-on opportunities with robots. They were especially thrilled by the underwater remotely controlled vehicles they managed to control with enough finesse to retrieve loops of rope in the bottom of a tank.


Eric Egland and his two sons, Noah (left) and Daniel, traveled from San Francisco to attend the DRC Finals.

For Michele Rose and her two sons, Robert, 14, and Christopher, 12, getting to the DRC finals took only a local drive. They got hooked on the DRC during the Trials two years ago. Since then, "we have been following it online and with computer magazines and social media," Michele Rose said. When the family learned the DRC Finals would be in their own neighborhood, they postponed their original summer plans in Florida so they could be there. There was no twisting of arms here. For years already, both of the Rose brothers have been involved in robotics by way of school-based STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) clubs and summer robotics camps.

Of the two boys, Robert is the one most smitten by robots... "since birth," his mother is quick to point out. Lately, Robert Rose said, he has been focusing on the software and coding side of robotics technology. In the Grandstands, the family is rooting for RoboSimian, the DRC entry from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Not only is JPL less than an hour away, but one of the boys' grandfathers worked there. They have been following Team RoboSimian for a long time, Michele Rose said.


Michele Rose and her sons, Christopher (left) and Robert, are rooting for RoboSimian, the entry from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

She was at least as excited as her sons to be at what many have likened to the Superbowl of robotics. Said Michele Rose, "You think about how far we have come and you can see how far we still have to go, but it's mind blowing, the advances that have been made in the past five or ten years."

The DRC always has been about building communities and catalyzing wider interest in advancing robotic technology. As the Egland and Rose families could see as they watched the most sophisticated robots in the world struggle on the Finals courses, this will be a multi-generational task. When they are grown up, the younger attendees in the Grandstands could well look back at the DRC Finals and identify it as a pivotal influence in the educational and career decisions they ended up making.