Friday, July 24, 2009

NJ Star Ledger article

Here is the URL for a recent article in the NJ Star Ledger newspaper.
After this article was published, Rachel received a congratulatory letter from
US Representative Leonard Lance!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Article in The Bernardsville News

Check out this URL for the local newspaper article:

Last Photos

We had an hour to wander around the old town on our last day. Then it was off to the airport.

The old town is filled with beautiful, old, buildings, many of which date to medieval times. It seems that every building has some interesting architectural feature.

Many doors along the sidewalks are of dark wood or cast iron.

This is the facade of one of the older buildings, which houses a well-known pastry shop. In the close-up, you can see the double-headed golden eagle crest of the Habsburg family, which ruled Austria for almost seven centuries. In some of those centuries, this pastry shop supplied pastries to the royal family.

As you can probably guess, Rachel and I can vouch for the high quality of the goodies.

There are many things that we will miss about Graz. We enjoyed walking and taking the tram, rather than driving, and we loved the old buildings and beautiful sights. We will also miss
the polite and friendly attitude of people in shops and on trams. The stereotypical German work ethic appeared to be present in Austria as well. The Stadthalle (convention center) was spotless, due to the efforts of smiling workers who seemed always present and always willing to help.

Thank you to all of you who made Rachel's trip possible. We are blessed to have such wonderful and generous family and friends.
Rachel and Debbie

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Day of Sightseeing

One question before we post lots of photos: Is anyone out there? Please comment so that we know that someone is reading this!

Gruss gott. The city of Graz has many old buildings, with occasional new construction. Here is a typical block, one that we walk by near our hotel.
Today we traveled to the outskirts of the city, to the Schloss Eggenberg.

This palace was built in 1625 by Prince Johann Ulrich von Eggenberg. There are 4 towers for the seasons, 12 gates for the months and 365 windows for the days of the year. The palace is on beautiful grounds, and also houses displays of artwork and coins from as far back as 1290 A.D.

Here I am with Uma, the mother of one of Rachel's teammates, Uday, in front of the facade of the palace. And below, another shot of the beautiful facade.

Rachel and Uday were fascinated with the many peacocks that roamed the grounds.

In the center of the three story palace is a courtyard with many windows.

We are getting used to Austria's customs, but we just can't get used to all of the cigarette smoking. I even saw someone smoking while riding his bicycle. While the main courses here are rather bland by American standards, the apple strudel, beer, and pumpkin seed salad dressing are wonderful.

That's all for now. We will be sorry to leave this beautiful place tomorrow.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Murinsel

Hey it's Rachel again!

So far, my team has done better each day, but still it is not good enough. Today was the last day of competition.

After we finished competing, we went to the floating island, the Murinsel. It was built in 2003, when Graz was the "cultural capital of Europe". It was designed by New York artist Vito Apponci, and floats in the River Mur, linked by footbridges to the banks on either side of the river. The river was rushing past the structure, but it remained stationary. Inside the building, there was a cafe, bar, and a playground. I enjoyed climbing on the ropes that were set up at the playground.

This is me looking down to my mom. The net is covering part of my face, but it is not too obscured.

I hope to see you all very soon!


Final Competition Day

Today was the third day of competition, with the final two runs for each team.
As you can see in this photo, team members from all countries were tense. Rachel and
her team look concerned, but check out the Slovenian kids on the right. Both robots
were traversing the field at the same time, and neither was performing very well.
I couldn't get close enough to hear this conversation, but doesn't it look like Rachel is trying to
charm the three judges while Michael makes adjustments to their robot?
Here are the team members discussing their score with the judge.
The RoboDragons' robot had its best day today, but they still did not score high enough to
enter the finals tomorrow.

We spent the late afternoon taking the funicular to the top of the Schlossberg once again. This time, we walked partway down the hill on a winding, very steep path, until we came to the clock tower. We then took a glass elevator that descends into the side of the hill, into part of an extensive tunnel system. The tunnels were built during WWII to serve as an air raid shelter for up to 40,000 people.

I should mention that we have been getting around Graz using the excellent tram system, which is clean and efficient. Today there was an outdoor concert at the Hauptplatz, a square near our hotel where we usually catch the tram. Trams from both directions were rerouted, so we did more walking than usual. More photos tomorrow, our last day here in Graz.

Friday, July 3, 2009


We had a short time to do some sightseeing today. We visited the Schlossberg, a 473 meter high hill on which stood a huge fortress in 1544. Napolean razed the fortress in 1808, and only the bell tower and clock tower were allowed to remain.
We took a funicular to the top of the hill.

This cable railway goes up at a 61 degree incline. Once on top, we enjoyed a small museum with military uniforms and weapons from the world wars.

Here are some views from the top: bridges over the River Mur, and

a view of Graz, with alps in the background.

Here is Rachel on the way down.

After our excusion, it was back to the Stadthalle for two more robot runs, this time with two Austrian teams as part of our super team. Here are four team members watching
the robots behaving in unexpected ways. Check out the Austrian team member with blond hair on the left of the photo...I think that we all had this expression while watching today.
Remember, you can click on any photo and it will become larger.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

With No Gas

Hey, it's Rachel!
I just wanted to update you on my entire Europe experience.

The weirdest thing about Austria is that regular water is hard to find. Most water is strongly carbonated with gas. Still water is rare, but I don't like carbonated. When at a restaurant, one must ask, "May I please have water with no gas?"

So far, I have only spoken a bit of German. I say "bitte" for please, and "danke" for thank you.


Day 2 of RoboCup

Another day spent at the Stadthalle. The RoboDragons had their first two matches, and, unfortunately, an uncooperative robot prevailed and the scores were not high. They will compete twice tomorrow, and, hopefully, after many hours of robot tweaking, the scores will be higher.
This is the "field", where the robots compete in the rescue mission event. The robot has to follow the dark line, stopping to "pick up" victims on the line, avoiding the obstacles in the way, and going up the ramp to the top level.

In this photo, Rachel and teammate Uday look concerned as the robot has difficulty turning on the right angle at the bottom of the ramp.

We met this little fellow in the exhibition hall. He was dancing, with movements that closely approximated human movement. We saw his friends playing soccer (notice the computer/robotics college students with the computers in the background).
I swear that the one in the middle was looking coyly toward the camera instead of looking toward the soccer ball.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

At the Stadthalle

We spent 10 hours at the Stadthalle today, at RoboCup 2009. There are 995 students registered, on 187 teams, from 25 countries. The students range from 10 years old to graduate students. The RoboDragons registered today, and then were interviewed by judges to make sure that they had done the work for their robot themselves. The judge told them that they had a high score for the interview.

Rachel and teammate Uday conferring with Elizabeth, the team coach and mentor. Mentors were not allowed on the floor with the teams, hence the rope at the top of the photo, keeping Elizabeth outside.

The competition will be done in superteams, with each individual team paired with two others. The teams will compete together, and can gain points from each other's successes, but each team is scored alone. The RoboDragons will be working with an Italian and a Slovakian team tomorrow. The kids are learning a great deal about international cooperation, because the Italian kids don't speak any English, and only one member of the Slovakian team speaks a bit of English.

The sights from around the hall are amazing. From where I sat I could see the RoboDragons working on programming their robot, all of them in tee-shirts, while another rescue team walked by wearing three piece dark suits. I watched a dance team from Finland, all with umbrellas, dancing to "Singing in the Rain", in rhythm with an umbrella-toting robot. One dance team made a robot that looked like a life-size swan, complete with feathers and wings that flapped in time to music.

I watched high school and college teams playing soccer. These robots can even kick the ball, which makes it difficult for the goalie robot to make a save.

Back to the hotel for dinner and more work on the robot. We are all quite jet-lagged, so it's early to bed. I woke up in the middle of the night last night for several hours, when it was about 6:30 p.m. New Jersey time, I think because my body thought that it was time for dinner! Here's how we all feel about jet lag: (Team member Michael's little brother has become the team mascot.)

First Day in Graz

Greetings from Graz, or should we say Guten Abend!
Our hotel overlooks the River Mur, which runs through the city. Here is one view from our balcony.

After arriving and a nap, we shared chococappucino, tea and Apfelstrudel at a local kaffe shop. Here's Rachel drinking current tea. Rachel was embarrassed when I ordered in German, but I think that I got all the words right, in my horrific accent. We have encountered many English speakers, and I only had to pantomime once, to someone on the housekeeping staff. (Anyone know how to say "my daughter is sleeping" in German?)

The kaffe shop was in the Haufplatz, or square. On one side was the Town Hall, or Rathaus. Beautiful, isn't it? It was built in 1878 in honor of the Syrian Prince.

All day today was spent at the Stadthalle, where the robotics tournament is being held. We'll include photos in our next post. Tschuss!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Coverage in Local Newspaper

Rachel was interviewed by a reporter from the Bernardsville News. An article should appear
this week or next week. Please look for it. For those who live out of town, I will post a link to the article online when it appears.
I was proud when Rachel told the reporter that she was looking forward to meeting more girls who were interested in robotics, as she is the only girl on her team. I guess that my feminist leanings have rubbed off on her a bit!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fundraising continues

We are continuing our fundraising efforts for the trip, which begins on June 29th. We held a
cupcake sale after church today, and the money raised will be very helpful to cover our expenses.
To everyone who contributed, thank you! Your generosity was amazing. We hope that you
enjoyed the cupcakes. Members of the Church of the Redeemer in Morristown are very
generous folks.

We are still looking for some larger corporate donations, so if you have any corporate contacts who might be interested, please let us know.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

More local news coverage and RoboeXpo

Here is another news story about the RoboDragons:

Here is an article that describes the robotics expo being held tomorrow by Storming Robots, the center that sponsors Rachel and Matt's teams. Rachel's team's rescue robot will be shown, while Matt's group is demonstrating a robot that uses GPS. If you are in the area tomorrow between 1 and 4 p.m., please drop by.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Graz and language-learning adventures

We are reading up on Graz, Austria in preparation for our trip. It is the second largest city in Austria, and has six universities. The competition will be held at the Stadthalle Graz, which looks like a large exhibition hall/convention center.

Rachel and I met with my friend Veronica, who travels to Germany several times every year. She gave us some tips for international travel, and described the culture of Austria. We have been listening to German language tapes, and we will at least be able to introduce ourselves, know when we are being asked to show our passport, and get a taxi to our hotel. Veronica recommended trying the sauna at the hotel. In this part of Europe, one can get a degree or certification in sauna administration, as the proper combination of temperature, humidity and fragrant oils is part science, part art.

Guten Abend. I just can't get used to the way that all the nouns are capitalized in German!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

More about the competition, and a photo of the team.

RoboCupJunior is an education-focused robotics competition for primary and secondary school students. Teams design, construct, and program autonomous robots to complete a variety of challenges; including soccer, rescue, and dance.

The Storming Robots team will be competing in the Rescue challenge, in which each robot must navigate through a recreated disaster scenario to identify victims quickly and accurately. The robots are equipped with a number of sensors to allow them to interact with their environment, include ultra-sonic sensors to identify obstacles and walls and multiple light sensors for identifying paths or victims. For the international event, the students will be adding an accelerometer to determine incline and an on-board vision subsystem.

In addition to the engineering challenge of constructing the robot, the students face the complex task of programming their robot to interact autonomously with the disaster environment, requiring an understanding of the fundamentals of computer science. This includes complex multitasking and sensor feedback controls. (from the press release about RoboCup 2009,
Elizabeth Mabrey, 2009).

Friday, June 5, 2009

RoboDragons going to Austria

Welcome readers! This blog will describe my daughter Rachel's journey with her robotics team, the RoboDragons. This first post may be redundant for some of you, but future posts will give updates on our fundraising efforts. Once we are on our trip, we will be posting updates from the tournament in Graz, Austria.

The RoboDragons scored highest in the nation in their event, rescue mission, in the primary division (age 14 and under) of RoboCup Junior. The team has been asked to represent the United States at the international tournament, RocoCup 2009 ( in Graz, Austria at the end of June 2009. Rachel and her teammates feel privileged to have been given this honor and opportunity.

The team arose from a weekly roboclub meeting at Storming Robots Technology Center, a robotics studio in Branchburg, New Jersey.

Here is a photo of the rescue robot. The reddish glow is from the light sensors, used to track the line and identify "victims" (the body outline ahead of the robot). Gears on the side allowed the robot to ascend a twenty-five degree angled ramp in order to rescue more victims.

The team must pay its own way to Austria, and team members are responsible for their travel costs, lodging, meals and registration fees. To fund participation in the international competition, we are engaging in fundraising. Unfortunately, time is short and we must quickly raise the money needed to travel to Austria. We estimate that the costs for each team member will be about $2000.

We hope that some of you are able to help Rachel and the RoboDragons to represent the United States at RoboCup 2009. We understand that times are tough, and any donations would be greatly appreciated. A Paypal account has been set up and can be accessed at, using the email address

We would also appreciate corporate support, if you have corporate contacts. Although Storming Robots Technology Center is not a public school or a 501(c)(3) entity, the center is a big supporter of public technology education and does provide programming to home schools and public schools. Support for the RoboCup team also will not provide any financial benefit or profit to the center.