Ottumwa Courier: Robotics Reign Supreme During FTC Qualifier Event

Monday, January 30, 2012

By Cindy Toopes
Ottumwa Courier

OTTUMWA — Walking cubes of metallic framework, computers, and 18 teams of high school students were all over the Tom Arnold Net Center Saturday on the Indian Hills College campus.

The occasion was “Bowled Over!” — the Hills' First Tech Challenge (FTC) Qualifier competition. FTC is designed for those who want to compete head to head in a sports format.

Well, the “cubes,” also known as robots, stayed mostly in the competition area — which was a rectangular area with a knee-high barrier — and tried to score points by completing certain tasks.

The 18-inch square cubes sometimes seemed to be having fun. One robot did a whirl in one corner of the competition, then lifted a lid off an obstacle and that movement allowed a bunch of racquetballs to go all over the area.

During the expected movements, a cube could move a six-pound bowling ball to a marked area, which scored 20 points for the team.

From this qualifier, four teams will go to state competition. Next, one of two teams will go to world competition, according to Jeff Henderson, a robotics professor at Indian Hills.

Four years ago, there were two high school teams in Iowa competing in robotics. Now there are 65 teams, and Henderson hopes the number climbs to 100.

Henderson said Rockwell Collins is a company that’s interested in youths learning robotics.

Rebecca Whitaker is director of K-12 Outreach in the College of Engineering, University of Iowa.

“Eighteen teams is a good turnout,” she said Saturday morning. “FTC is a nonprofit venture that includes four programs and FTC is one of those.”

She also noted FTC is for high school kids, or students who want challeneged.Henderson said Indian Hills had worked with Legos for four years “and robotics is the next step.”

What do students think? Roy Rummelhart and James Canny are juniors at Ottumwa High School. They consider the robots “a great learning experience” and both said it’s “fun to work and program” those walking cubes.

The four teams that will advance in the competition are: #4144, Engineer Imagineer, Ottumwa; #4156, Wildcat Robotics, Central City; #3608, Oskaloosa Team #1, Oskaloosa; and #4443, Oskaloosa Team # 2, Oskaloosa.

For more information about the competition: ftc.iowa@gmail.com