WKU hosts high school robotics competition

Cameron Koch

High school students from all over Kentucky will make their way to WKU on Saturday to participate in the 12th annual Kentucky Bluegrass Robotics Competition.

The department of engineering hosts two events each year — one for elementary and junior high school students and another for high school students — with the hope of creating interest in math, science and engineering.

The 20 teams participating will be tasked with creating a robot that can perform a specific function, with past events involving lifting objects or popping balloons. Teams must not only design a machine that can complete the given task, but they must also out-perform three other competitors each round.

After each round teams have a break period to analyze the success of their robot and adjust accordingly for upcoming rounds.

Ron Rizzo, a staff engineer in the engineering department, will help students make modifications between rounds. Rizzo said the experience of the competition teaches students the skills engineers use every day.

“They develop what we call engineering skills, like troubleshooting,” Rizzo said. “It’s pretty interesting to see the variety of different solutions to the same problem.”

The team whose robot scores the most points is dubbed the best robot, though other categories exist such as most efficient robot, which is determined by points scored divided by dollars invested.

Engineering professor Kevin Schmaltz is coordinating the event with help of other teachers and students in the engineering department.

Through grants and WKU funding, the engineering department was able to purchase the basic parts needed for teams to create a robot. Teams can then invest in additional components if they so choose.

“There are competitions where high school teams build robots and compete against other high school teams, but it costs tens of thousands of dollars to compete,” Schmaltz said. “We provide teams with materials to build a robot.”

Julie Ellis, the engineering department head, said the lower cost helps attract students who otherwise might not participate.

“It allows a lower barrier to entry,” Ellis said. “It’s a way we can give back to the community and also do a little recruiting.”

Schmaltz emphasized the importance of sparking interest in the engineering field and giving students a one-of-a-kind learning experience.

“Our goal is to give them a good experience and make it as cheap as possible [for them],” Schmaltz said. “Building a robot is an activity we think that might take someone who maybe is thinking about being an engineer, scientist or mathematician and cement that interest in it.”