Gearing up for annual robotics competition

Posted: April 6, 2015 - 1:22pm

Thanks to CNS employee and corporate donations, area high schools are getting a little help in an event that’s been called “the varsity Sport for the Mind™” — the FIRST Robotics competition.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), founded in 1989, encourages students’ interest in technology and science through international robotics competitions. FIRST provides all teams with a common kit of parts, and students then have six weeks to build a 120 lb. robot for competition against other teams. This year’s game, "Recycle Rush," requires the robots to fill and stack plastic totes and recycling containers.

“These are super groups of kids,” said Mission Engineering Vice President Mike Beck, the CNS senior management lead for FIRST Robotics teams. “It’s really a pleasure to work with them on projects that challenge their creativity and dedication.”

Y-12 employees are again volunteering as competition judges and as team coaches and mentors to help students with electrical and mechanical engineering, computer programming, problem-solving and teamwork skills.

“I really appreciate the opportunity for our employees to get engaged,” Beck said. “I’m thankful for the wonderful CNS parent-volunteer involvement with FIRST teams.”

CNS gave $1,000 each to seven local TN high school teams at Oak Ridge High School, Farragut High School, L&N STEM Academy, Hardin Valley Academy, Bearden High School, Gibbs High School and Roane County High School, and $10,000 to the Bushland Independent School District near Pantex to kick off a robotics program and help the school district form a mentor-protégé relationship with Oak Ridge schools. Bechtel, Lockheed Martin and Booz Allen Hamilton, all CNS member companies, are corporate sponsors of FIRST.

CNS also provided $5,000 to TNFIRST for event support.

“This sponsorship helps us get where we need to be to increase interest in the teams and the competition,” said TNFIRST chair Mike Wehrenberg, VP and General Manager of Kendall Electric, a Y-12 supplier of electrical, data and automation products. “We had our first regional competition five years ago with three teams. This year we’ll have more than 50. Great volunteers and sponsors really make a difference.”

The Smoky Mountains Regional is one of the most popular regional competitions, Wehrenberg said, and will host teams from Tennessee and eight surrounding states. “These teams are really fun to watch, and really demonstrate the ’gracious professionalism’ FIRST Robotics is all about.”

The Smoky Mountains Regional FIRST Robotics competition will be held April 3–4 at the Knoxville Convention Center. The Friday and Saturday events are free and open to the public. To find out more information, including how to volunteer, visit their website.

The 2015 National Robotics Week is Apr 4–12. National and state schools, agencies and businesses will hold events to raise awareness about robots and robotics technology in industry, education and society.