The University of Alabama

UA to Host Robotics Competition

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Participants in the 2012 Alabama Robotics Competition watch as their programmed robots perform inside Shelby Hall.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — More than 350 students from third graders to seniors in high school from across Alabama will be at The University of Alabama April 6 telling robots what to do and hoping their instructions are good enough to win the Alabama Robotics Competition.

The competition, which is in its third year, is hosted by the UA College of Engineering’s department of computer science. The goal is to spur interest in computer science among the state’s primary and secondary education students, said Dr. Jeff Gray, associate professor of computer science.

Unlike other robotics competitions, students will not be judged on building the robot, rather how the robot performs in obstacle courses set up in the rotunda of Shelby Hall. Students will program the robots at a computer before watching the robots autonomously carry out their instructions on the playing field.

“It’s a programming contest within the context of a robotics competition,” Gray said. “We take a fun context and make it exciting for the students, but they are still learning the fundamentals.”

Started two years ago with 25 students, the 2012 competition drew more than 150 student participants. This year’s contest will have more than 30 teams from across the state.

The competition fills a gap expressed by primary and secondary teachers, Gray said. The spring contest complements other fall robotics competitions by offering students studying robotics additional activities to pursue later in the school year. Also, the competition’s emphasis on programming skills results in an autonomously-controlled robot, rather than a remote-controlled robot.

“Points are scored in this new competition based on the clever solutions of student programs, rather than the skill of a teammate with a remote control,” Gray said.

Many of the contestants will use a graphic-based programming language that allows for contestants as young as third graders to program their robot, and Gray said there has been a lot of interest from elementary schools in the competition.

“We’re trying to raise awareness about computer science around the state among students,” he said. “Software is driving automation. Software is everywhere, and computer scientists are the ones who are enabling the growth of automation in many areas.”

Each contestant will bring their own robot to the competition already assembled. There will be three obstacle courses of varying difficulty for the contestants. A robot scores points while maneuvering through obstacles, and the tiebreaker is the time it takes the robot to finish, Gray said.

More than $4,500 in prizes will be awarded. Sponsors of the contest include Google, CTS, Pearson and the National Science Foundation.

Registration begins at 10 a.m. in Shelby Hall, and the contest will be from noon to 3 p.m. in the rotunda. More information about the contest, including photos and results after the contest, can be found at outreach.cs.ua.edu/robotics-contest.

In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s fully accredited College of Engineering has more than 3,300 students and more than 100 faculty. In the last eight years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater, Hollings, Portz, Mitchell and Truman scholars.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.