Frisbee-flinging robots took over the Knoxville Convention Center last weekend, as thousands of high school students, mentors, and volunteers gathered for the third annual FIRST robotics Smoky Mountains regional competition.
Local teams Hardin Valley Academy, Oak Ridge High School, and Halls High School netted the championship title in a nail-biting finale at the regional event, qualifying them to compete in the national finals held April 24-27 in St. Louis. A team from Roane County High School, which won the Rookie All Star award, is also bound for nationals. The four high schools are among 14 teams sponsored by UT-Battelle, the managing contractor of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
The FIRST robotics competition gives high school teams six weeks to design, build, and program a complex robot that can meet the intense demands of the year’s game. Throwing discs and climbing pyramids were among the challenges of the 2013 game, called Ultimate Ascent.
In its third year supporting the FIRST competition, UT-Battelle has provided more than $50,000 to 14 local teams, the regional tournament, and a host of related activities. With support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, ORNL also opened its Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, a state-of-the art research laboratory, to local teams as a building and educational space. Several teams are taking advantage of the opportunity to learn about cutting-edge manufacturing techniques such as additive manufacturing and carbon fiber composites, which they have applied to building to their robots.
“It’s a thrill to see kids learning about and integrating next-generation manufacturing technologies into their robots,” said FIRST mentor Craig Blue, director of ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility. “This program is an unparalleled opportunity for high school students to learn engineering and business skills, along with the value of teamwork, to prepare them for the workplace of the future.”
Other award winners at the Knoxville Smoky Mountains regionals include:
- Mark Buckner, ORNL researcher and mentor of Oak Ridge High School, won the Woodie Flowers Finalist Award, which recognizes outstanding adult mentorship.
- The Blount County robotics team, composed of Maryville and Heritage high schools, received the Highest Rookie Seed and Rookie Inspiration awards.
- Hardin Valley Academy won the Excellence in Engineering Award.
- Oak Ridge High School won the Quality Award. Team member Sydney Buckner was recognized as a FIRST Dean’s List Finalist.
- Catholic High School was named a regional finalist and also received the Innovation in Control award.
Photos from the regional event are available at ORNL’s Flickr site here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oakridgelab/sets/72157632465346818/.