TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Sixty teams of elementary through high school students from across Alabama will program robots to navigate obstacles Saturday in a competition held at The University of Alabama.
“We’ll have third graders all the way up to high school seniors all doing the same contest problems,” said Dr. Jeff Gray, UA professor of computer science.
About 300 students and 200 parents and teachers are expected to attend the Alabama Robotics Competition hosted by the UA College of Engineering’s computer science department. The contest will be held in Sellers Auditorium at the Bryant Conference Center. Check-in begins at 9:30 a.m., and the awards ceremony will conclude by 4 p.m. A special keynote speech from code.org will be given before the start of the contest.
The contest takes place from noon to 3 p.m. Programming skills are emphasized in the competition. Students use their own computers to program their robotic hardware and maneuver it through an obstacle course independently. Teams are scored based on their ability to operate their robot through the three problems and how long it takes them to complete the obstacles.
“This contest is a programming contest. So, you have to actually program the robots,” Gray said. “There is no remote control. They have to actually make the robots autonomously move across the maze and bump off obstacles. They’ll have touch sensors. They’ll have light sensors. And, the idea is to make it through the maze.”
Each year the problems the teams are given have a theme, but the theme remains a secret until competition time. In years past, the themes have included the Winter Olympics, Monsters Inc. and Minions. The theme of the problems for 2017 is also related to a popular movie from the past year.
“We’ll reveal the problems to them just about a half hour before it starts,” Gray said.
By participating in the competition, students learn technical skills for programming, teamwork through working with others, problem-solving by working through the obstacles and sportsmanship in competition, Gray said. The public is welcome to watch the competition, which will also be projected on a screen in the contest area.
The day is set to kick off at 10:45 a.m. with the students listening to a keynote speaker, Brook Osborne, the educational program manager at code.org. Gray said code.org hosts the Hour of Code where over 100 million children across the world participate in an hour of computer science. Osborne will also speak with the participants and their teachers during the contest.
The competition is split into three divisions, elementary, middle and high school. First, second and third place plus an honorable mention will be awarded in each division. Trophies and nearly $5,000 worth of gift cards, books and other items will be given to the winners.
Details about the event can be found at http://outreach.cs.ua.edu/robotics-contest/
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.