I’m on the ground at the TCEA State Robotics Contest witnessing some incredible displays of engineering thinking, creativity, and collaboration. These kids have traveled from all over the state after competing in area contests. Some have worked in teams to create amazing inventions to solve real-world problems. Others have built and programmed machines to complete complex tasks in the Robotics Arena. All have demonstrated critical thinking and a passion for STEM learning.
Head to Head in the Robotics Arena
The Arena competition is where the tension really mounts. The students have spent months preparing a solution to the competition challenge. This year’s challenge, Code 3, centers around emergency preparedness. The teams sets up their robot and gather around the arena table in anxious anticipation. The clock is set: two minutes. At the count of 3, 2, 1, LEGO…they’re off!
Each team’s robot has to complete as many of the event problem’s tasks as it can in the set time limit. Teams built their robot using one LEGO EV3 or NX, a specific set of motors and sensors, and other LEGO-branded elements. Additionally, teams were allowed five dollars to incorporate non-LEGO parts on their robots. Even using the same parameters to solve the same challenge, it’s fascinating to see the different approaches and materials used by the different teams.
At the end of their two minutes on the arena floor, teams may be elated that their robot functioned just as they hoped. Or, for some, their robots didn’t quite work as planned, but they still had fun. One competitor shortly before his team’s turn in the Arena said his favorite thing about robotics is “the chance to turn trash into better.” He continued: “At first you have no idea where to start, and the first thing you try usually doesn’t work, but eventually you come up with something great.” In robotics, you quickly learn that there’s no such thing as perfect, and failure is just a part of the process.
Inventing a Better World
While the Arena teams were battling it out for points, I stopped by the Inventions Hall to check out what the teams had created. I was blown away by their ideas. They aren’t just seeing the world and accepting it as it is. They are not seeing problems as obstacles, but as opportunities to find solutions. After talking to a few of these visionaries, I’m pretty excited that they’ll be the ones transforming our future.
Many teams focused on ways robots could do jobs that would be dangerous or hazardous for humans. One team designed a robot that could fight forest fires, providing a cheaper alternative to helicopters that could keep firefighters out of harm’s way. Another team designed an emergency water testing robot that could detect hazards in volcanic runoff. Some teams focused on robots that could help the elderly or individuals with disabilities. One robot was designed to be an alternative to a seeing eye dog. Another offered a more affordable solution to robotic prosthetics. A few teams focused on clever things that can make life a little easier like a mailbox robot on wheels that can bring the mail right to you or a robot that can make a ham and cheese sandwich with the push of a button!
Overall, the teams not only programmed functional prototypes of their creations, but also came up with polished presentations and marketing plans for their ideas. When asked what he loved most about robotics, one team member said “It’s the satisfaction of the final product. It can not work a million times, but when it finally does, it’s all worth it.”
Are You Ready to Robot?
I hope you enjoyed this insider look into the TCEA Robotics Contest. Do you have a robotics program in your school? If so, we’d love to hear some more great ideas from your own legion of robotics masters in the comments. Don’t have a program yet or ready to kick your robotics program into high gear? Consider joining our EV3 Robotics Workshop in June. Find out more or register here.