Hollywood family part of world robotics winning team

Spanglers joined alliance to grab championship

Friday, April 30, 2010

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The Spangler family, David, Mary, 11, Lydean, Laura, 8, Renee, 15, and Erik, 13, won the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championship held in Atlanta on April 15, 16 and 17.

A Hollywood family's robotics team was a member of the winning alliance for the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championship held in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta earlier this month.

The Spanglers competed against 100 teams mostly from the United States in this year's "HotShot" challenge. Those teams had been whittled from more than 1,000 teams at various state and country competitions.

The Spanglers team, called "Under the Son," consists of Renee, Erik, Mary and Laura, home-schooled children of David and Lydean Spangler of Hollywood.

David Spangler explained that the family's team had came in seventh place overall during the initial qualifying rounds of competition. The first place team — "Smoke and Mirrors" from Lakeland, Fla. — picked the Spanglers and team "GForce" from Aiken, S.C., to form the winning alliance.

"It's a great achievement," said Jeff Tjiputra, chair of the business and technology division of the College of Southern Maryland and organizer of the state's FIRST championships.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a nonprofit intended to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and business leaders. FIRST helps organize robotics teams and events for kids from ages 6 to 18, including the FIRST Robotics Challenge, FIRST Tech Challenge, FIRST LEGO League and Junior FIRST LEGO League.

Teams of students design, build and program their robots to compete in an alliance format against other teams. In the process they develop problem-solving, organizational and team-building skills and compete in tournaments, according to a statement from the FIRST program.

The FIRST Tech Challenge, which the Spanglers compete in, is the newest and has been around for about four years, Tjiputra said.

"It's a new program. It's growing," he said.

Each team receives a kit of materials. David Spangler said they can use some add-on parts for fabricating the body, but for the most part the robot's parts are the same from team to team.

The robot, which is basically in an 18-inch cube frame, must collect and deposit wiffle balls on the course.

The competition consisted of a 30-second autonomous section during which the robot must perform a task on its own, followed by a two-minute period where team members control the robot remotely.

The Spanglers had advanced to the world championship held in mid-April by captaining the winning alliance at the Virginia championship in February.

At the Maryland championship held in December at the College of Southern Maryland's La Plata campus, the team was not part of the winning team but did win the Rockwell Collins Innovate Award. Virginia and some other states allow teams from out-of-state to compete, which is how the Spanglers won a spot to the world championship.

The Spanglers pulled their children out of St. Mary's public schools several years ago because they said the schools could not meet their children's dietary restrictions. All four children are home schooled.

"We consider it part of the schooling," David Spangler said.

Lydean Spangler, the children's mother, incorporated different lessons into the robotics completion. She is the team coach while David Spangler acts as the team's mentor.

David Spangler said although they are now playing catch-up on some lessons, the time spent on the robot competition was well worth it and taught his children plenty of lessons.

The Spangler family became interested in robotics challenges after seeing a demonstration of the Robobees team from the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center, David Spangler said.

"We kind of got hooked on it and ended up starting our own team based on their influence," he said.