Students meet goals building soccer-playing robots

2014-07-18T21:30:00Z 2014-07-18T21:55:34Z Students meet goals building soccer-playing robotsBy Tom Beal Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The lobby of the University of Arizona Book Store rocked with cheers, claps and shouts of “goal” Friday as teams of engineering students from Mexico pitted their robots against each other in a fútbol tournament.

In the end, the RoboCup Junior trophies went to Team Ochoa, named for the ultra-talented goalie of the Mexican national team — Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa.

“We were invicto (undefeated),” said Ramiro Marquez, a student at Technológico de Monterrey’s Hermosillo, Sonora, campus.

Marquez said his team built a taller version than the others to elevate the sensors that allowed the robot to detect the soccer ball’s infrared emissions and to differentiate between the blue and red patches in front of the goals.

It was a winning design but also “a little bit of luck,” said his teammate, Ana Caballero.

Caballero said she had no expectations for the three-week systems engineering class that brought 34 students from Hermosillo to the UA campus.

She said she found it both fun and highly educational. She also enjoyed the experience of being a student in Tucson — a place she had come to shop over the years but never truly visited.

Engineering Dean Jeff Goldberg said the exchange program is a good way to attract talented graduate students.

It was offered in a partnership between Tecnológico de Monterrey and the UA Office of Global Initiatives and Outreach College.

Ricardo Valerdi, associate professor of systems and industrial engineering, designed the course to build toward the tournament at the end.

Each day was half lecture and half lab, where the students designed robots and wrote the software that allowed them to operate autonomously in one-on-one matches.

Valerdi has plenty of experience combining science and sports. He developed a Science of Baseball curriculum for middle schoolers in conjunction with the Arizona Diamondbacks that has now expanded to other Major League Baseball teams and to other sports.

The UA announced Friday that it had licensed the curriculum to a “Science of Sport” business founded by Valerdi; Crystal Kasnoff, former community relations director at UA Medical Center and Ballard Smith, former CEO and president of the San Diego Padres.

Valerdi, who wore referee’s pinstripes and a big grin throughout the contest, said linking the principles of science, technology, engineering and math to sports is fun for him as well as the students.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at tbeal@tucson.com or 573-4158.

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