High-schoolers' robots ready to rumble at SW Pa. regional competition

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Consider them miniature gladiators.

Or, think of it as schoolyard brawling by remote control.

Either way, the ankle-high robots set to do battle during a region-wide competition today and Saturday at California University of Pennsylvania will be teaching their student creators important lessons about science, math and engineering as well as potential ways to earn a future living by building things.

The eighth annual Southwestern Pennsylvania BotsIQ Regional Competition drew 54 teams this year from 40 southwestern Pennsylvania schools and began with preliminary mechanized-fighting at Westmoreland County Community College last month.

The bouts now move to the final rounds at Cal U's convocation center today and Saturday from morning to evening.

State Education Secretary Ron Tomalis is among those expected to attend the event today.

As part of efforts to confront problems posed by an aging manufacturing workforce, the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association led a successful push by business and educators to bring a national student robotics program to southwestern Pennsylvania in 2005. The event's roots were modest, with six schools sending robots to the inaugural competition.

Last year's overall winner was Highlands High School's "King of All Robots." Other robots have competed under names like "Still 'N Shock2," "Bruce Wayne" and "Intimidator."

Sparks fly (literally) as the metal contraptions slam into each other in a gladiator-style ring. A video with thunderous sound effects promoting this year's event promises that "a battle will rage" with "machine vs. machine."

But for all the fight imagery, students to be successful must rely on solid use of math, science and engineering skills as well as meet project deadlines and effectively communicate both in writing and in a public setting, organizers said.

"They're building robots and we're building a workforce," said Bill Padnos, executive director of BotsIQ Southwestern Pennsylvania, a program encouraging high school students to be interested in careers in manufacturing.

He said the idea is to drive home the point that jobs are there and they are high-skilled positions.

Among supporters of the event are Hamill Manufacturing Co., Kennametal Inc., Oberg Industries, the R.K. Mellon Foundation, United States Steel Corp. and Du-Co Ceramics. In all, 54 manufacturers are business advisers, in many cases providing space and equipment for students to create their entries, organizers said.

education - region

Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG.


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