SIUE to Host Global Conference on Educational Robotics in July

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The Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Engineering will be the center of attention in the BotBall world July 7-11 when the Global Conference on Educational Robotics (GCER) takes the Midwest by storm.

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As the technology has improved over the past 12 years, it has allowed students to learn faster and more on their own. And, we have seen a 10-percent upswing in students majoring in engineering and we’d like to think robotics had a hand in that.

The Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Engineering will be the center of attention in the BotBall world July 7-11 when the Global Conference on Educational Robotics (GCER) takes the Midwest by storm.

The GCER is an annual event which draws middle school and high school students, educators, robotics enthusiasts, and professionals from around the world to connect with peers, discuss technology-related ideas, and cheer on their favorite teams during two exciting autonomous robot tournaments.

“We are so excited to have this global event right here on the SIUE campus,” said Jerry Weinberg, professor of computer science and chair of that department in the SIUE School of Engineering.

He explained that BotBall is a competition that engages middle and high school aged students in a team-oriented robotics competition based on national science education standards. Students prepare for a BotBall event by designing, programming and building robots in a hands-on project that reinforces their learning.

“In addition to the GCER, the four days include: The International Botball Robotics Tournament -- for middle and high school teams to show off their robotics expertise to the general public -- and the Kiss Institute for Practical Robotics (KIPR) Open Robotics Tournament -- a robotics competition for college-age competitors and beyond, also open to the public.”

Weinberg also pointed out that educators and students will be presenting papers at the four-day event. “The teachers will be sharing new techniques proposed for the robotics classroom but the students also are encouraged to submit papers with their own views about robotics,” Weinberg said.

Teaching robotics in the middle schools and high schools caught on in the late 1990s, Weinberg said. “In 1998, new smaller and inexpensive computer technology was created and that made it possible to bring that technology into the classroom. Hands-on robotics projects have become useful educational tools across a variety of subjects,” Weinberg pointed out.

“Robots are integrated systems comprised of interdependent electrical, mechanical, and computational components. Because of their multidisciplinary nature, the study of robotics in the classroom has become a valuable tool for the practical, hands-on application of concepts in various STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) topics at the K-12 and undergraduate educational levels.

“As the technology has improved over the past 12 years, it has allowed students to learn faster and more on their own,” Weinberg said. “And, we have seen a 10-percent upswing in students majoring in all types of engineering since 1998 and we’d like to think robotics had a hand in that.”

Weinberg has been instrumental in involving local high schools in botball tournaments on the SIUE campus, which has grown to include regional and Midwest tournaments for the past four years and now the international tournament coming in July. “The KISS Institute has been watching our activities over the years and they’ve seen how the program has grown,” Weinberg said.

“They’ve seen the potential and that’s why they decided to bring the international tournament to Edwardsville.”

During the four-day event, guest speakers will include Pam Gay, a research associate lecturer in the SIUE Department of Physics, who will talk about space exploration and the role of robotics; Jeffrey Rice, an application architect and a vice president at The Boeing Co., who will speak about robotics in the aerospace industry and how Boeing utilizes robotics; and James McLurkin, an assistant professor at Rice University, who will speak about his research in developing small robots as wireless networks.

“We’re expecting 50-60 teams of students for the competition portion of the GCER,” Weinberg said, “and we already know we have teams from Kuwait and Poland, along with several teams from throughout the United States.

“Cleaning up an oil spill is the theme of this competition,” Weinberg said, “a timely topic even though it was created several months ago before the disaster currently occurring in the Gulf of Mexico,” Weinberg pointed out. He is referring to Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig, leased to BP oil, which exploded April 20 and has been sending untold amounts of oil into the Gulf.

In the GCER competition, robots will be programmed to help clean up a simulated oil spill in a “lake,” which also will involve wildlife clean-up. “An earthquake has occurred and the robots will be used to absorb the oil slick, help clean the ‘ducks’ that use the lake,” he said. “The ducks will need to be moved by the robots to a cleaning area and then moved again to a ‘cleaned wetlands area.’

“The robots also will move sponges to various areas of the lake,” Weinberg said. “The sponges represent absorbents to be used to clean the ‘oil spill.’”

For more information about the GCER, visit the SIUE website: http://www.siue.edu/robotics .

Industry-leading firms from around the region, nation and the world recruit SIUE School of Engineering graduates. With a state-of-the-art facility, highly qualified faculty and active partnerships with area industries and agencies, students prepare for challenging careers in engineering, computer science and construction management.

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville offers the advantages of a small, liberal arts college with the low tuition rates of a state university. Our emphasis on undergraduate education, complemented by faculty research, creates practical applications for student learning. Located in the second most populated area of the state, this Illinois university draws students from all 102 Illinois counties, 42 states and 50 nations.

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