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Robotics at SIUE

The SIUE School of Engineering faculty and students organize several robotics mini camps and visit middle schools each year to talk about the importance of robots in our lives. The workshops, along with the regional botball competition held on campus each year, intrigue hundreds of young people interested in pursuing careers in engineering.

SIUE Hosts 7th Annual Botball Tournament
A record 36 teams competed in the Greater St. Louis Botball Tournament before a steady crowd of more than 400 people in the SIUE Morris University Center on Saturday, April 20.

"Botball puts the focus on the student - they devise the solutions and implement them by building robots and programming robots' behaviors," said Gary Mayer, event organizer and assistant professor of computer science in the SIUE School of Engineering. "Getting young people engaged in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities such as the botball program helps develop critical thinking skills that can be applied to any career field."

The theme of this year's tournament was the "Mars Sample Return Mission." The students built autonomous robots that traveled around a game board with four goals:

  • Retrieve samples cached by the Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity
  • Gather, sort and separate unusual and interesting samples detected from orbit
  • Load the samples into return containers
  • Assemble the return vehicle (rocket) and prep it for launch

The overall winner was determined as a sum of a team's score in seeding rounds, the double-elimination tournament and in documentation developed before the competition and presented at the competition. Each of these categories was equally weighted when determining overall score.

"The tasks in the tournament challenge never have a single solution," said Mayer. The teams received a kit with hundreds of parts such as sensors, motors and structural pieces. Students were free to be as inventive with the kit components as possible. The result was a fleet of unique robots that allowed the students to see the strength and weaknesses of different approaches, especially in head-to-head competition.

"People frequently are surprised to learn that the kids as young as 6th grade complete head-to-head against high school teams," said Mayer. "The fact that the tournament isn't locked up by veteran teams is just great. It shows that all of the teams have a real chance when they get in there and apply themselves."

Greater St. Louis Botball Tournament Winners
Overall score on a 3.0 scale
1. Belleville East High School: 2.88
2. Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois: 2.72
3. Pana Junior High School: 2.66
4. Edwardsville High School: 2.60

Complete details on the scores can be found at the official Botball website.