Botball competitors build robots for bouts 

Botball is all about enhancing education, imagination and even social interaction " one autonomous robot at a time.

The annual competition for teams of junior high and high school students across the U.S., as well as those in the Middle East, lets participants use skills in programming, engineering, technology and more to create a fully independent robot. The machine " constructed mainly from a fairly limited kit provided from the Norman-based nonprofit KISS Institute of Practical Robotics, which runs the Botball program " is then tested in a space-themed field against another team's creation, scoring points by picking up and moving objects in two minutes. The awesome automatons use servomotors, sensors and cameras to navigate the terrain and accomplish objectives.

Several teams in Oklahoma geared up for months in preparation for this month's international tournament and conference, held July 8-11 in Norman. Students from one team, hailing from Southwest Covenant High School in Yukon, said the Botball experience taps into instructional and social elements.

"Botball for a lot of schools " and especially our school " is an organization that really brings a different variety of different kids, different personality types together," said Wil Ross, bot builder and senior-to-be. "And they combine them to create a diverse team that's fun to hang out with. You meet new people at something like this, so it's fun for that reason."

And there's more to the competition besides constructing, programming and the final gauntlet.

"When it comes to doing a Botball contest or tournament, there's lots of different categories and a variety of little competitions they'll have, part of which is a paper and creating a Web site, and the 'construction of' and everything that goes with that," Ross said. "Our team consists of programmers, builders, writers and researchers."

A big draw to Botball is the fact that no robot-related experience is needed. One of the team's programmers said he saw the opportunity and went for it.

"I didn't know how to do any of this stuff " programming and stuff like that," said teammate Zach Stearman. "I thought it would be interesting to learn; it would be a good learning experience. That's really what brought me into it " almost curiosity, really."

The group offers several robot-oriented programs, including classes on robotics; "Robots in Residence," which brings bot equipment into schools for interactive learning experiences; and Botball competitions on teen and adult levels.

Jacob Sackett, a Southwest Covenant team programmer and builder, said the competition offers a unique experience with every robot.

"That's one thing about Botball in itself: Even though everyone's trying to do the same thing, everybody has a different way of doing it, so nothing's the same twice," he said. "Jake Dalton

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