The stars are aligning for science and engineering, as a new movie starring Jamie Lee Curtis, George Lopez, Carlos PenaVega and Marisa Tomei about a high school robotics team makes its debut in theaters nationwide. The movie, “Spare Parts,” is based on FIRST Robotics Competition Team 842 – Falcon Robotics, from Carl Hayden Community High School in Phoenix, Ariz., and their famous robotic underdog victory against Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) which was chronicled in the WIRED article “La Vida Robot” in 2005.
The team, led by FIRST Senior Mentor Faridodin “Fredi” Lajvardi and currently retired computer science teacher Allan Cameron, was comprised of four students who in 2004 built an underwater robot for the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center’s Remotely Operated Vehicle Competition.
Team members discovered a leak shortening the system in their robot, Stinky, during the competition. With limited time and resources, students stuffed the leak with tampons, impressed the judges with their creative problem-solving skills and emerged victoriously from the underwater robotics contest, besting MIT among other college teams.
Lajvardi credits the team’s innovative, creative thinking and victory to their participation in FIRST, which dates back to their “rookie” year in 2002.
“FIRST offers students the rigors and rewards of engineering during the six-week FIRST Robotics Competition build process, which taught my students creative problem-solving skills, collaborative teamwork and innovative thinking skills that gave us more of an advantage in competitions,” said Lajvardi. “Students also built their self-confidence through the FIRST experience yet they learned how to ask for help from Mentors when they needed support.”
In the movie, George Lopez’s character is a combination of Cameron and FIRST Senior Mentor Lajvardi. All of the remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) were built and at times even operated during onscreen action by students and Alumni of three FIRST teams: Team 842, Team 39 and Team 1726.
According to Lajvardi, the cast and crew of “Spare Parts” were amazed that the high-school students were capable of designing, building, and operating all of the ROVs for the movie – the teams built a total of 24 ROVs. In addition to building and operating the ROVs, the FIRST teams also helped design the tasks the ROVs had to perform onscreen.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is an international not-for-profit organization founded by inventor Dean Kamen to inspire young people’s interest and participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). The organization offers a Progression of Programs with leadership opportunities and hands-on experiences in robotics engineering and invention challenges for students in K-12.
“’Spare Parts’ tells an impressive story of grit, determination, creativity and leadership in engineering,” said FIRST President Donald E. Bossi. “The characters—who are modeled after talented, real-life leaders—show the world you can work hard and have fun in science and engineering while accomplishing your goals through teamwork and individual success.”
A science teacher for more than 25 years, Lajvardi has helped his students achieve numerous goals in FIRST, including four regional FIRST Chairman’s Awards, four Arizona State FIRST Robotics Competition titles, and the 2008 Chairman’s Award—the organization’s most prestigious award. Lajvardi earned the 2013 Woodie Flowers Award from FIRST, given each year to outstanding Mentors who lead, inspire and empower their team, and also demonstrate effective communication in the art and science of engineering and design.