Growing interest in robots brings student competition to Elkhart

The IndianaFIRST State Robotics Championship is coming to Elkhart for the first time Saturday, May 10. 

Posted on May 6, 2014 at 6:27 a.m.

ELKHART — If the term "full-contact robotics" makes you sit up a little straighter in your chair, you may want to clear your schedule this weekend.

Two dozen robots built and programmed by Indiana high school students will be competing Saturday, May 10 at North Side Middle School gym in Elkhart. The event is free and open to the public and event organizers even say they'll welcome volunteers to help set up and run check-in.

It's the first time the IndianaFIRST state championship will be held in Elkhart. Usually, local teams must travel to Indianapolis if they qualify for state, said Penn High School's robotics coach Jim Langfeldt.

"We've had a growth in awareness and a growth in number of teams in the northern Indiana area," Langfeldt said. "Because of that, we've been able to get the championship to come up to Elkhart."

Penn's 26-member robotics team is the only local team that will compete at the state level this year, but Elkhart team ElkLogics is hosting. Teams are coming from West Lafayette, Huntington, Indianapolis and other cities.

Robots won't be fighting each other — they will be forming alliances for 3-on-3 contests, according to event organizer Brian Boehler of ETHOS Science Center.

The bots will need to pass an exercise ball to other robots down the length of the basketball-court sized field, Boehler. Later, robots will shoot the balls into a goal at the end of the field — with extra points if they can recognize a goal that's lit up.

Most of this action will be controlled by student "drivers" but there will be time to see what the bots can do on their own.

"The robots do bump into each other from time to time and you see parts go flying," Boehler said. "It's full-contact robotics."

Langfeldt's team at Penn is working this week on scouting other team's robots to see what they can do. Students are watching archive videos of past competitions and looking for the perfect robots to team up with for the 3-on-3 elimination rounds, Langfeldt said. 

The action starts at 9 a.m. in North Side's gym with an opening ceremony. Robots will get practice rounds in during the morning, then compete for real in the afternoon. 

Three winners will be announced around 3:30 p.m. For a complete schedule, visit ETHOS's website.

Adults 18 and older may volunteer at the competition. For more information on that, contact Brian Boehler at brian@ethosinc.org.

Follow reporter Lydia Sheaks on Twitter at @LydiaSheaks

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