Edwin L. Aguirre
Inventors young and old pushed their skills and talents in robotics and computer programming to the limit during the annual Botball tournament and Botfest exhibit held recently at Costello Gym on UMass Lowell’s North Campus.
Botball is a fast-paced, high-energy contest held under the auspices of the KISS (“Keep It Simple, Stupid”) Institute for Practical Robotics. Student teams created the robots using kit materials. The robots were designed to be completely autonomous; they performed tasks completely on their own, with no remote control.
Botfest is a non-competitive exhibition of interactive, build-it-yourself robots and animatronics and included demonstrations by UMass Lowell students as well as corporate, school and community groups.
Nineteen middle and high schools from across Massachusetts and New Hampshire competed in Botball. The robots and their handlers showed off their individual capabilities during the seeding rounds and then battled head to head in double elimination rounds.
“These are robots with brains,” says Computer Science Assoc. Prof. Holly Yanco, who directs the University’s Robotics Lab and was the principal organizer of the event. “Students designed, built and programmed their robots, and the competition was educational as well as entertaining.”
Wellesley High School took overall first place, with Roxbury Latin School and Malden Catholic High School as runners-up. Overall standings were based on tournament play combined with Web documentation.
“More than 100 students from Billerica, Hanover, Tyngsboro, Wakefield, Haverhill, Andover, Lowell, Lawrence and Worcester participated in Botfest,” says Phyllis Procter, program manager for community partnerships in UMass Lowell’s Computer Science Department. “A wide variety of creative projects were on display, including super crickets, a robotic fortune teller, pile driver, pickup truck, spinning night light, bugs and Lego contraptions, all autonomously controlled by code that the student had programmed into each unit.”
The two regional events were part of the first annual National Robotics Week celebration, which this year ran from April 10 to 18. It was organized by iRobot Corp., the Technology Collaborative and various companies, organizations and universities, including UMass Lowell, Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Southern California.
The goal of the National Robotics Week was to educate the public about how robotics technology impacts society, highlight its growing importance in a wide variety of application areas and inspire students to pursue careers in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.
Sponsors for this year’s Botball and Botfest included Analog Devices, Waters Corp., DS Solidworks Corp., the Commonwealth Alliance for Information Technology Education and MITRE Corp. For more information, visit www.botfest.org and www.botball.org.
To see photos of the events, visit the Picasa web albums of Phyllis Procter and Prof. Fred Martin.