KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
In an effort to promote interest in STEM, Air Force Research Laboratory’s La Luz Academy at Kirtland hosted student teams from around New Mexico for the annual Robotics Challenge Expo March 9.
More than 100 students representing seven schools, as well as several home school families, converged on Kirtland to stretch their programming skills, as well as generate interest in the science, technology, engineering and math fields in the next generation of scientists and engineers.
“We want to give students the opportunities to apply science and math concepts in fun and meaningful ways,” said Ronda Cole, La Luz Academy director. “We introduce them to coding through building and programming a robot to complete certain tasks. We really want students to get excited about technology and come away with a better understanding of robotic systems.”
The Robotics Challenge is the culminating event for La Luz’s outreach program. Beginning in the fall semester, students began learning how to build and program small robots, called BOE-Bots, with help from their classroom teachers.
Prior to the event, student teams had several assignments to complete and post in an on-line environment called CourseSites. Teams received points for each assignment they completed and submitted on-line. About 70 teams completed the assignments, and the top 32 teams, based on points earned, were invited to attend the Robotics Challenge Expo.
At the Expo, teams demonstrated their ability to complete challenges. Some challenges they had time to prepare for in advance, but they also had the opportunity to program their robots to complete new challenges.
New challenges varied from a light-sensor course, in which a robot had to follow a strand of cabled lights, to programming robots to maneuver through a 3D obstacle course.
“It’s really challenging, and the programming can become frustrating, but it’s fun and I really like it,” said Serenity Smith, a sixth grader from Mesa View Elementary School.
Cole said the challenges were designed to be a difficult, but not impossible.
“The Expo is a chance for the students to stretch a little bit and figure out how to apply what they’ve learned in new and interesting ways,” Cole said.
Martin Willis, a technology teacher at Jal Junior High, brought eight teams – a total of 31 students – to the event. He teaches robotics as part of his class curriculum.
“We incorporate robotics into our school system because we are very STEM oriented,” he said.
AFRL showcased several advanced robots, including a toy robot with some artificial intelligence, a robot designed specifically to solve a Rubik’s Cube and a look-alike of Pixar’s robot Wall-E.