NORMAN — Serious but excited students calculated carefully while concentrating on the exact set of commands that would get their robot to lightly place a cluster of doll-size hangers on a rack. If the robot missed its mark, the students would try again with as much energy and intellect as they could muster during the Oklahoma Botball Regional Tournament, which celebrated 20 years and inaugurated the Elementary Botball Challenge on Saturday at Norman High School.
Nearly 90 teams from Arkansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and north Texas competed in the student-built autonomous robotic competition. The Botball tournament challenges students in high-level programming and requires the teams to present their robot’s design and strategy, like real-world engineers. No remote is used to control robots, only code.
This year 22 more teams were able to compete in Botball due to state funding, Steve Goodgame, executive director of KISS Institute for Practical Robotics, said. Middle school and high school students sent their robots through a course where they could lift and move different colored cubes, poms and hangers. The course’s theme followed the story of Botguy’s return from a Mars Sample Return Mission that left him needing physical therapy. Students demonstrated gross motor skills, raising and placing skills, picking up and lowering skills and fine motor skills. Industry professionals from Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon served as judges.
Goodgame said the new Elementary Botball Challenge was developed with the help of the K20 center at the University of Oklahoma and implemented in schools in December. Participating teachers went through workshops and learned a curriculum. 38 elementary schools from across the state registered to compete in Saturday’s competition.
“We’re the first in the nation to offer this type of program to elementary students,” Goodgame said. “It’s about teaching kids to code, but it’s also about empowering teachers so they’re not afraid to code themselves.”