College of Engineering Helps Kick Off Robot Season

Masood Parang, Associate Dean for the College of Engineering, addresses robotics teams in Cox Auditorium on Saturday during the launch of this year's competition.For many, the end of football season usually means attention turns to basketball, but for more than 400 budding scientists and engineers who came to UT on Saturday it marks the start of something else: robot season.

FIRST Robotics kicked off its 2015 game, Recycle Rush, with a live reveal broadcast online to teams around the world, including twenty-nine teams who gathered at Cox Auditorium on the UT campus.

Related video: Watch the reveal of Recycle Rush

L&N Stem Academy's Jentry Jones talks during a workshop related to the launch of FIRST Robotics' 2015 season on Saturday.“Saturday marks the first time that any of the teams get to see the challenge of this year’s game,” said L. J. Robinson, Tennessee’s regional director of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). “The kickoff event is a big deal in its own right, with gatherings held around the world to watch the announcement.

“Certainly, it’s an exciting moment for those new to the competition.”

The UT gathering alone had five new teams: Austin-East Magnet High School, Bearden High School, and Knox County Schools Career Magnet Academy at Pellissippi State in Knoxville, and Red Bank High School and Ivy Academy from the Chattanooga area.

Eli Charles (left to right), Olivia Mahathy, Steven Charles and Moire Gabor, part of the Secret City Wildcats from Oak Ridge High School, work on the initial stages of their robot.FIRST said that almost 75,000 high-school students across 3,000 teams were expected to be watching the live reveal at more than 100 locations.

Teams learned that Recycle Rush will focus on designing, building, and programming robots that can stack plastic totes, place recycling bins on top of those totes, and then place litter—represented by pool noodles—into the recycling bins.

As in the past, teams from individual schools will form alliances with two other schools for each round, with the idea being that each school will likely have a robot focused on one of the three actions mentioned.

Bearden High School's Patrick Woodworth, left, and Shea Payne look over their team's robot.“One of the biggest problems that stifles students is lack of confidence that they can’t do something, in the sense that it’s impossible,” said Robinson. “These competitions focus on showing them that they can and will meet seemingly insurmountable challenges, all while learning to build relationships and work together under professional standards.”

Teams were treated to a free lunch on behalf of UT’s College of Engineering—a major sponsor of the competition locally—before heading to Estabrook Hall to start working with designs, materials, and mentors to begin building the initial concept of their robots.

Members of the robotics team from Hardin Valley Academy talk about their plans.In addition to the lunch, the college’s presence was felt through an address by Associate Dean Masood Parang as well as a prebuild workshop hosted by Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering Professor Bill Hamel.

“Our relationship with FIRST Robotics and with these budding engineers is one we take very seriously,” said Parang. “Being able to help nurture these young minds is frankly securing the creative technical and engineering workforce of the future.”

Other workshops at UT included sessions on the rules and game strategy, a breakdown of LabView programming, a 3D printing workshop, a forum on business and media communications, and a mentor forum.

Teams have six weeks to work on their robots, which will then be bagged and held securely until the start of the regional competition on April 2 in Knoxville.

C O N T A C T :

David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)