The First US Robotics Competition came to Knoxville on March 27-29, 2014, and the Knoxville Convention Center became home to over 50 of the area’s top high school robotics teams. The three-day event culminated in a two-out-of-three final showdown between the best teams of the weekend.
While the standing-room only preliminaries kept a frantic crowd screaming and cheering for their favorites, the real show took place in the pit area behind the grandstands. Taking a stroll through the pits brought the smell of motor oil and burnt resistors mixed with a visual extravaganza that would warm the soul of any Techie. Toolboxes brimmed with the latest in Arduino-based technology, and soldering iron sizzled and smoked as components were replaced with NASCAR-like speed and precision. The sportsmanship on the playing field extended behind the scenes as rival teams shared software upgrades and swapped spare parts to keep machines running.
The raucous sounds of the fanatical crowd signaled the beginning of the final phase of competition. In this sport, the object of the game is two-fold. The robot can score by shooting the ball through a designated goal, or by herding the ball out of a gate. The combination of basketball and soccer makes play fast and exciting with robots being remotely controlled for certain tasks and running in autonomous mode for designated portions of the game. The Red Coalition, featuring the team from Oak Ridge, made a clean sweep in two games and will advance to the next stage of competition.
While shooting basketball is not the epitome of robotics, it is a viable path for robotics education that can lead to greater things in the future. The same technology being developed by these high school students will spread into other applications and fuel the future of the robotics industry. I want a personal robot that will bring me coffee in the mornings, and if it wants to shoot some hoops after breakfast, who am I to say no?