Hundreds of Florida students of all grade levels gathered in the name of innovation at Miami Springs Recreation Center, competing with and against each other for a chance to qualify for state final VEX and VEX IQ Robotics Competition.
After competing in the state competition, teams could possibly qualify for the VEX Robotics World Championship, a competition that invites the top 1,400 student-led robotics teams from around the world to compete in Louisville, Kentucky.
Bots For All, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to exposing students to robotics and coding, partnered with the Junior Orange Bowl to host the largest robotics competition Nov. 5 in Miami Springs. The competition challenged more than 100 student-led teams to build and program robots to complete trials in which robots had to transport objects to designated areas.
Rob Gordon, founder of Bots For All, launched the organization after noticing an absence of after-school robotics and coding programs in Miami-Dade County. He prides himself in advancing education by inspiring students to be curious and creative and encourages young minds to pursue science, technology and engineering careers.
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“We support students by giving them the equipment and the instructional assistance they need [to create unique, customized projects],” Gordon said.
The instructional assistants are volunteers, as are the competition’s judges. While the instructional assistants are mostly university students, the judges range from retired executives to scientists, teachers, engineers and business people.
The judges are responsible for inspecting the robots to ensure they meet standards. They must also score teams based on their robot design, programming skills and overall engineering excellence.
Hugo Montaudon, judge and father of two VEX Robotics World Championship prize recipients, is familiar with these robotic creations. He volunteered his time because he truly believes the young participants are the nation’s future.
“[These children] are going to create surgical robots and automated cars,” Montaudon said. “They are going to be the next Steve Jobs.”
Although Montaudon admires the students’ STEM brilliance, what he enjoys most about the competition is that teams must work together to win. This is because the teams are grouped into “alliances.” These alliances consist of two teams that must work together to defeat a rival alliance.
TERRA Environmental Research Institute’s WARwolf ROBOTICS team believes the teamwork not only advances strategic thinking, but also encourages the cultivation of new friendships.
“This gives us the opportunity to test our intellectual and mechanical skills and a chance to make new friends,” said Maria Bustillo, 16, a WARwolf ROBOTICS’ programmer.
It is the first time the Junior Orange Bowl and Bots For All collaborate, but they are confident it won’t be the last. Alex Markel, assistant director of the Junior Orange Bowl, was surprised at the competition’s turnout. He believes the program is successful largely because students have the opportunity to be competitive.
“Miami has a lot of great STEM programs, but in terms of fueling that competitive fire that [the students] have, this where they get that experience,” Markel said. “I think that’s why [this program] has grown so much.”
16 prizes were awarded to the teams. Of these, several qualify for the state VEX IQ Robotics Competition, which includes elementary and middle school teams. Others qualified for the state VEX Robotics Competition, which encompasses higher level middle school and high school teams.
▪ Design Award: Pembroke Pines Charter Middle School West, Tech Titans
▪ Middle School Excellence Award: Starbot, Brainstorm
▪ Elementary School Excellence Award: Pinecrest Academy South, Pirates
▪ Teamwork Champion Award: Academir Charter, ACSM Robotics; & Riviera Middle School, Robot Rams
▪ STEM Research Project Award: Westminster Elementary Christian School, Warrior VEX IQ
▪ Overall Tournament Champions: NSU University School, USSR Alpha; MAST Academy, Mecha Mako A; Immokalee High School, Robot.io
▪ Design Award: TERRA Environmental Research Institute, WarWolf Robotics
▪ Robot Skills Winner: NSU University School
▪ Excellence Award Middle School: Pinecrest Preparatory Middle, PPMH Techies
▪ Excellence Award High School: NSU University School
The winning teams will prepare for the state competition which will take place at the Tampa State Fair in February. The teams may then qualify for the VEX Robotics World Championship.