Robot Rally Invades Campus

Robot Rally Invades Campus
Fourth- and fifth-grade students compete in the 2007 Robot Rally.
The LEGO robots were built by students from Kingsley and Collegewood elementary echools.

Give a few LEGO parts to a room full of elementary school kids, and before long, they'll learn math, science, engineering and computer programming. That's the thinking behind the annual Robot Rally, a competition in which students face off with their LEGO Mindstorms NXT robots.

Sixty-five students from Montvue Elementary School in Pomona and Collegewood Elementary School in Walnut will battle head to head in a sumo competition and in an archeological dig on Tuesday, May 19, in the Engineering Building 17 Atrium. The robot rally, from 10 a.m. to noon, is an opportunity for the fifth- and sixth-grade students to put their skills to the test.

“Our principal goal is to generate student excitement about math, science, engineering and technology by providing early and authentic problem-solving experiences with robot building and programming,” says Cesar Larriva, associate professor of education and program coordinator.

For the past few months, the students worked in teams of up to four and built nearly 40 LEGO robots that will compete in one or both of the events. Through the Cal Poly Pomona School Robotics Initiative, mechanical engineering students guide the youth in building and programming the robots. Student teachers from the College of Education & Integrative Studies (CEIS) observe in the classroom, and psychology majors help evaluate the project.

The robotics initiative is a collaborative effort involving faculty from CEIS, the College of Engineering and the College of Letters, Arts & Social Sciences. Team members include Larriva, Jill Nemiro, associate professor of psychology & sociology; and Mariappan “Jawa” Jawaharlal, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

In the sumo competition, two robots face off in a ring and try to force the opponent out. In the archeological dig, the robots try to locate an item by using color sensors. In both events, the robots run autonomously, which means the students have to pre-program them to perform specific moves, turns and actions.

The robotics initiative plans to add more classrooms and establish a permanent program at the schools. Professors in Math Education and Mechanical Engineering follow a “teach the teacher” model by training elementary teachers during a three-year apprenticeship. The goal is to develop a network of schools for students to participate in robotics activities from elementary through high school. Participating students will emerge with hands-on experience and technical skills, and be better prepared to succeed in college.