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The University of Alabama

UA to Host Robotics Competition

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Robots navigate an obstacle course at the 2015 Alabama Robotics Competition.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Students across Alabama, from third graders to seniors in high school, will be at The University of Alabama April 9 programming robots and hoping their instructions are good enough to win the Alabama Robotics Competition.

The competition, which is in its sixth 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, UA professor of computer science.

Check-in begins at 10 a.m. in the Bryant Conference Center, and the contest will be from noon to 3 p.m.

A keynote talk will be given at 11 a.m. by Dr. Nan Boden, director of engineering at Google who graduated from UA with a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics.

Unlike other robotics competitions, students will not be judged on building the robot, rather how the robot performs in obstacle courses. 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 in 2011 with 25 students, the competition has grown each year. This year’s contest will have over 40 teams from 30 schools across the state bringing more than 200 students along with an additional 350 teachers, volunteers and family members.

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 as in other contests.

“Points are scored in this 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 graphics-bsed 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.

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 $6,000 in prizes will be awarded. Sponsors of the contest include ABB; CTS, Computer Technology Solutions; Google; and Pearson Education.

More information about the contest, including photos and results after the contest, can be found at outreach.cs.ua.edu/robotics-contest.

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.