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Botball, Botfest Kick Off Robotics Week

Robots to Invade Campus on April 9

Students presenting at the UMass Lowell Botfest exhibition

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Robots will once again take over the campus when UMass Lowell hosts its annual Botfest exhibition and Botball tournament on Saturday, April 9, at Costello Gym on North Campus.

Botfest is a non-competitive exhibition of interactive, build-it-yourself robots and animatronics by inventors of all ages and includes demonstrations by college students from UMass Lowell, corporate groups, and school and community exhibitors. 

Botball is a fast-paced robotics competition that engages middle- and high-school students in a team-oriented contest. It is held under the auspices of the KISS (“Keep It Simple, Stupid”) Institute for Practical Robotics. Student teams create the robots using kit materials. The robots are designed to be completely autonomous; they perform tasks completely on their own, with no remote control.

By designing, building, programming and documenting robots, students use science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as well as writing skills in hands-on projects that reinforce their learning.

The two regional events are part of the second annual National Robotics Week celebration, which this year runs from April 9 to 17. It  is organized by iRobot Corp., the Technology Collaborative and various companies, organizations and universities, including UMass Lowell, Mass Technology Leadership Council, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Boston’s Museum of Science, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, Microsoft Research and the Smithsonian. 

The goal of the National Robotics Week is to celebrate America’s leadership in robotics technology development, educate the public about how robotics technology impacts society both now and in the future, advocate for increased funding for robotics technology research and development and inspire students to pursue careers in the STEM fields.

A Day of Fun and Learning

Fifteen middle and high school teams from across the state and New Hampshire will compete in Botball from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., while 10 groups will participate in Botfest from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

“We expect more than 250 students to participate in this year’s Botball and Botfest,” says Phyllis Procter, program manager for community partnerships in the Computer Science Department.

“This year, we awarded 10 Botfest equipment scholarships to encourage robotics exploration and participation in Botfest. We also gave larger classroom-equipment scholarships to eight schools as part of our STREAM [science, technology, robotics, engineering and math] awards,” she says.

Procter says teachers are able to jump-start robotics programs in their schools with these scholarships.

“Often schools cannot afford investing in a new curriculum approach,” she says. “After receiving our scholarships, classroom teachers are able to show results and often convince the schools or parent-teacher organizations to give financial assistance to their programs.”

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You can see photos of last year’s Botfest here.

Participant in UMass Lowell's annual Botfest exhibition