More than 100 students ages 9 through 14 gathered in the Iles P.E. Center April 3 to compete in the Adventist Robotics League (ARL) Southern Challenge. This year’s theme, Body Forward, encouraged students to study advancements in engineering and medicine. The robotic tasks mirrored medical procedures related to blood screening, bad cell destruction, and nerve mapping.
The School of Computing has hosted the Southern Challenge on campus for the past seven years. Professor Tyson Hall, Ph.D., director of the ARL Southern Union region, recognizes the value in the Southern Challenge.
“This is an outreach to middle-schoolers in the Southern Union,” says Hall. “It increases awareness of what you can do with math and science."
The 13 teams in this year’s regional tournament came from various academies and home-school groups in the Southern Union. Each team programmed an autonomous robot to complete specific tasks on its own during a two-minute mission. Volunteers from Southern’s School of Computing checked off tasks as they were completed in the allotted time.
Aside from the challenge, students had five minutes to present a research project where they identified a problem related to biomedical engineering, created a solution, and shared it.
ARL is a full partner of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) LEGO League, and follows the guidelines of this international robotics program.
In addition to awarding first, second, and third place winners, Southern Challenge rewards teams in a variety of categories, including technical awards for robot design and performance, team presentation awards for projects and teamwork, and special recognition awards. The top prize is the Champion’s Award, which honors the team who successfully completes the FIRST mission and demonstrates the league’s values. This year’s Champion’s Award went to Crash Dummies, a local home-school team from McDonald, Tennessee.
Though Southern Challenge is a competition, the focus of the tournament is not on how teams place, but on the level of performance students achieve as a team.
“It’s a real world learning experience [for students],” says Ronnie Pittman, Unidentified Flying Legos team coach. “There’s problem solving and it’s a lot of fun.”
Southern will host the ARL North American Division Robotics Challenge for the first time on May 8 and 9. Top teams from every region’s overall category will compete in the national tournament. For more information, visit adventistroboticsleague.net.