Robots, Robots and More Robots

If you have never attended a robotics competition, do yourself a favor and go to one.  You will be amazed at the intensity, excitement and hard work you discover.  There are a number of regional “hubs” in Alabama where local school team compete each fall in hopes of earning a trip to larger competitions.

The regional competition in Mobile was won this year by a team from Davidson High School in Mobile.  (Where my daughter Kim graduated and my old high school football teammate from Theodore, Louis Copeland, is the long time principal.)  Here is a great write up about the Mobile completion.

The southeast regional competition will be at Auburn University Dec. 5-6.  Most of the competition will be on the 6th. You should mark it on your calendar.

I visited my first event at Auburn in 2006.  (Have been back several times.)  Following is what I had to say about what I saw that day.

There were cheerleaders, pep bands and team mascots. There were nervous mamas and daddies and video shots on a giant scoreboard. There were charter buses in the parking lot and school displays ringing the concourse of the Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum on the Auburn University campus.

And the competition on the floor of the coliseum was fast and furious.

Except it was not young men and women dribbling basketballs and shooting foul shots.

Instead, it was young men and women furiously manipulating toggle switches directing robots they’d built. On this Saturday in early December, the scene on Auburn’s campus conveyed the same excitement as the annual Iron Bowl that took place three weeks earlier.

It was the fourth edition of the South’s BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science & Technology) Regional Championship. This year’s contest was dubbed the “Laundry Quandary” because the challenge for these middle school and high school students was to get their school’s robot to place and retrieve laundry on a clothesline.

The event was sponsored by Auburn University’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering and the College of Sciences and Mathematics. Hosting the event is a giant undertaking requiring numerous corporate sponsors and countless volunteers. For example, it took 69 people to work as judges. Others headed committees dealing with security, scorekeeping, staging, media and more.

Not only were schools judged on how well their robots performed, but also on such things as web site design, oral presentations, notebooks and school displays.

One of the more notable awards was “the Blood, Sweat, and Duct Tape” award. According to the program, this goes to the team that “keeps on going, regardless of how much duct tape is holding their machine together.”

The floor of the coliseum was divided into a “pit area” and two “playing fields.”

Just as at any NASCAR event, the pit was a place of furious activity as team members worked feverishly to repair and fine tune their robots between their three-minute matches.

Each match consisted of four teams competing against each other, trying their best to both put laundry on the line and take it down and place it in a basket.

As each match began, team supporters broke into cheers and shouts of encouragement. Disco music blared through the coliseum speakers and pep bands grabbed their instruments. Flash bulbs popped and home video recorders cranked away.

There were 44 teams from public and private schools. There were 12 from Alabama and others from Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida and Illinois.

It’s easy to sometimes think that today’s world is going to Hell. We’re beset by news of students spraying bullets into their classmates, of too many students dropping out of school, of drugs and countless acts of mayhem and meanness.

But anyone who was at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum on Dec. 9, 2006 quickly realized that there is still magic amongst the mayhem. There are still bright, energetic young people being nurtured by caring, committed teachers and being encouraged by supportive parents going to school each day.

Young people who dream as big as those who once looked at the moon and wondered what it would be like to walk on its surface.

 

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