Volunteers needed for upcoming robot tournament | ParkRecord.com

Volunteers needed for upcoming robot tournament

When people hear the word "robot," many different images come to their minds.

Some see autotrons, which were wind-up, mechanical humanoid machines that, through a series of gears and physics, would do simple tasks such as writing the alphabet or drawing a picture.

Other people see the robots that staffed rocket ships in comic books and other atomic-age entertainment in the 1950s such as films and TV shows.

Still, others relate to the Laurel and Hardy act of those "Star Wars" droids, C3PO and R2-D2.

And then there is the Mars Rover.

There is no denying that robots have a solid place in popular culture, even in Park City, said Laura Monty, volunteer for the 4-H robotics club that meets at the Swaner EcoCenter.

Monty is also the event manager for the upcoming Utah FIRST Lego League’s qualifying tournament that will be held at Ecker Hill Middle School in Park City on Saturday, Jan. 12.

FIRST is an acronym meaning For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, and is the name of an organization that "ignites an enthusiasm for discovery, science, teamwork and technology in kids," Monty said.

One of the group’s programs is robotics, which includes the Lego League, the Tech Challenge and the FIRST Robotics.

"The Lego League is designed for teams comprised of students ages eight to 14, who program small robots to do simple tasks," she said. "FIRST also features a Tech Challenge for grades nine through 12, which generally involves bigger robots and more difficult challenges. And then there’s the FIRST Robotics, which is even bigger."

FIRST became popular in Utah because the Technology Venture Department at the University of Utah, headed by Anne Bastien, took on the FIRST Lego Leagues as one of their projects three years ago, Monty said.

"Now, there are 200 teams registered throughout Utah, so it has taken off in leaps and bounds," Monty said. "This program also offers between $12 million and $16 million in scholarships available for kids who participate in the program."

The tournament at Ecker Hill will focus on the Lego League teams, and they, with the help of mentors and coaches, will build and program robots to work out puzzles on a task table, Monty said.

"In addition, the tournament poses a different challenge each year for these robots to accomplish," she said.

This year’s challenge is called "Senior Solutions," and the object is for teams to come up with ideas that will help make the lives of senior citizens easier.

What Monty really needs are volunteers to help the tournament run smoothly.

Her list includes time keepers, scorekeepers, runners, referees, registers, ushers, pit managers, who call teams to the queuing areas, and field managers, who direct activities during the competitions, table resetters, and judge assistants, who make sure teams are judged according to schedule.

"Our goal is to recruit 50 volunteers," she said. "So far, we have 25."

Volunteers are also needed to serve as judges.

"One set of judges will examine the robots’ designs," Monty explained. "They’ll look at durability, efficiency, mechanization, quality, programming, navigation ability, innovation, things like that. We try to recruit people with technical backgrounds for those judges."

The next set will determine how well teams performed in the ‘Senior Solution’ challenge.

"They will review how the kids analyzed the challenge and what new solutions they came up with," Monty said. "The kids will be graded on how innovative and effective the new solution was.

"In the past we’ve used educators for these judges, but if a senior citizen wants to judge the challenge, even better, because they will be able to see how the solutions will help them," Monty said.

The last set of judges will assess the teams’ core values.

"The core values include team spirit, efficiency, but also how team members treated each other and the other teams," Monty explained. "So, if people feel they don’t have a technical background to judge the first category, they can still volunteer to judge in the other stations."

The tournament is an all-day event that starts at 7 a.m. with the arrival of coaches, judges and referees.

The tournament will open at 8 a.m. with an opening ceremony and the judging sessions will run from 9 a.m. until 11:30 a.m.

"After lunch, the robot games will start and run for approximately two hours," Monty said. "The games will just be some fun challenges that the teams will do while the judges deliberate."

The results will be announced around 2:30 p.m.

"The teams who place in the qualifying tournament will advance to the state championship that will be held Saturday, Jan. 26, at the University of Utah," Monty said. "Last year, one of the Ecker Hill qualifiers, The Lady Bots, won the state championship."

Those who win state will go on to nationals in Missouri in April.

To volunteer for the Utah FIRST Lego League’s qualifying tournament that will be held at Ecker Hill Middle School in Park City on Saturday, Jan. 12, visit http://www.utfll.uta.edu/volunteer .

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