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Instructor has designs on robotics team Print E-mail

The catapult that launched a basketball skyward last week at Studio Academy on Rochester's southwest side produced oohs and ahs from Ben Joslin's students. Wait until next year.

As much as his students enjoyed the launch, it was primitive compared to another hands-on undertaking Joslin is planning for his students at the art-centered charter school: Rochester's first high school robotics team.

Joslin, 27, a lanky Arizona native whose dad is a computer programmer, is in the early stages of organizing a citywide team to compete in a national robotics league called FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).

The league was founded in 1989 by Segway transporter inventor Dean Kamen.

"The goal of FIRST from day one has been very simple -- change the culture of the United States," Kamen recently told NBC Nightly News.

With 1,300 FIRST teams competing last year, including 16 in Minnesota, Joslin said he is "completely dumbfounded" that there is no team in Rochester, which is home to Mayo Clinic and IBM.

FIRST competitions "are not like 'BattleBots' or anything," said Studio Academy junior Mike Bleimeyer. "It's getting robots to do something practical."

Bleimeyer plans to take the robotics class Joslin will teach at Studio Academy this fall. The class will provide a nucleus for the Rochester FIRST team, Joslin said, but he invites students from any local high school, as well as adults interested in being robotics-league mentors, to send him e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

If Joslin can raise the $10,000 he needs for parts, tools, and student transportation, the Rochester robotics team will get ready for competition this fall.

In January, Joslin said, the Rochester team and other FIRST teams around the country will receive identical parts and be told exactly what sort of contest they need to build their robot to compete in.

Teams get six weeks to build their robots, Joslin said. After completing their robot, the Rochester team would travel to either Minneapolis or Milwaukee for a regional competition and a chance at the national finals, a showdown that this year was held in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Joslin, who moved to Rochester because his wife is a medical student here, was an adviser last year for a FIRST team in Tucson, Ariz.

"He was really helpful, and he makes connections with kids," said John Webster, who advises the NASA-sponsored team at Flowing Wells High School in Arizona.

Joslin said the citywide team he's starting might be a test case for Rochester. If the team is successful, he thinks more local teams might form.

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