Robotics competition brings engineering to life

Published Feb. 26, 2015
Louisville District engineers volunteered to serve as judges for the regional VEX Robotics competition in Owenton, Ky., in January.

Louisville District engineers volunteered to serve as judges for the regional VEX Robotics competition in Owenton, Ky., in January.

Robots will take over Louisville, Kentucky, when the VEX Robotics World Championship comes to town this spring. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Louisville District professionals will assist in judging more than 800 teams from around the world who will be competing in the event.

As part of USACE’s strategy to increase Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) initiatives the Louisville District became involved with judging VEX Robotics competitions—the fastest growing STEM game in the world.

“This robotics competition, better than anything I’ve seen, really helps pique a student’s interest in engineering as a career,” said Marilyn Lewis, engineering division chief, Louisville District. “This work with robotics helps them see the clear tie to engineering as a profession. It gives them a real working knowledge of engineering.”

In January, Louisville District engineers volunteered to serve as judges for the regional competition in Owenton, Kentucky, in which 75 teams from across the region competed.

This year’s game called Skyrise involves a 12-by-12 foot square playing field upon which four teams making up two alliances—red vs. blue—have their robots faceoff by moving and stacking blocks as quickly as possible.

For the first 15 seconds, the four robots must operate autonomously based on previous programming and design. After that, students operate their robots with controllers and try to rack up more points than their opponents before the two-minute time limit is up.

“It’s as competitive as the Super Bowl to them,” said Louisville District geotechnical engineer John Twombly, who volunteered to judge the event.

“You can tell they all got a kick out of it. From middle school to the seniors in high school they were very into their robots and the mechanics behind them.”

Louisville District engineers paired up to interview the student teams. The judge’s responsibilities primarily consisted of evaluating the student teams through interviews, reviewing their engineering notebooks and observing the teams during the competition.

“We went around and we talked to the individual teams about engineering and what got them interested in robotics and how they came up with their designs,” said Twombly. “It was actually pretty cool to hear their thought processes on it. It was a pretty neat experience.”

Although the tournament champions win based on their field play, there are several other award categories in which teams were evaluated such as the design award for best robot, the judge’s choice award for the team that exhibits the best spirit of the game, the sportsmanship award for those who are most helpful to other teams, and the highest award in the competition—the excellence award.

The regional winners included Central Hardin High School, Elizabethtown, Ky., John Hardin High School, Elizabethtown, Ky., Elkhorn Crossing School, Georgetown, Ky., and the Iteration Happens team, Stamping Ground, Ky., who will now advance to the state competition in February for their chance to compete in the world championship.

The VEX Robotics World Championship will be held in Louisville, April 15-18 at the Kentucky Exposition Center and will attract more than 15,000 students from over 30 countries to celebrate their accomplishments and further inspire their interest in STEM.

Lewis, who serves as the STEM Team point of contact for the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division says USACE involvement in these competitions is important.

 “By serving as a judge and interviewing the students on these teams, you can see how this has had an impact on their future career decisions,” said Lewis. “Many of the juniors and seniors getting ready to go to college told us that being involved in this had them interested in majoring in engineering.”

To watch a video of how the game is played click here.

To see the promo for the World Championship to be held in Louisville this April click here.