Students Gather To Compete In Engineering, Science Tournament

Saturday, March 5th 2016, 6:21 pm
By: Grant Hermes

For seven hours on Saturday, the Norman High School gym was turned into nerd heaven for the annual Botball tournament.

Elementary to high school aged students got to showed off their skills that could one day, literally, help them reach for the stars.

“Eight weeks ago these kids got a box of parts … they went back to their schools and worked with their mentors to design two autonomous robots to come and compete in this tournament,” Steve Goodgame said.

Goodgame is the executive director of the Kiss Institute for Practical Robotics, a non-profit organization that promotes and organizes the tournament.

The robots run off light sensors and they're programmed by the students to run entirely on their own.

“This is artificial intelligence. These kids are writing computer code coupled with engineering design. They're doing some fantastic stuff,” Goodgame said.

The competition always has a theme. This year, it was co-sponsored by NASA and the theme is based on the bestselling book and Oscar-nominated movie The Martian. In the movie the main character, astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on Mars and has to engineer himself a way home.

On the Botball game boards, robots run by teams in different age groups, had to perform tasks like they would if they were in Watney's boots. The robots were supposed to move different colored poms and foam objects around the board for points.

“It's really stressful when the robot doesn't go your way and it's really time consuming. 90 percent of the time it doesn’t go your way but it's so much fun,” Nishanka Kuthuru from Perry Middle School said.

While it may seem like fun and games, these students are learning serious skills. Many go on to use them to get into college, something students like 11-year-old Joseph Bowlin, have already set their sights on.

“I already know which college I'm going to; Savannah College of Art Design,” he said

In a field dominated by boys, Botball attracts some of the most girls only teams anywhere in the world, according to Goodgame. The program has been recognized by the United Nations as one of the top programs for getting girls interested in science.

“It's like really hard for us as girls, so for just for us girls to do this, it's really awesome,” 7th grader Sierra Squire from Kiefer said.

Trophies are passed out to the winners at the end of the competition but any team has a chance to compete in the international tournament this summer. A tournament for elementary teams will be held next month, including one team of girls that will be featured in the White House Science fair this year.