Robotics has rapidly evolved from a more specialized and costly branch of technology into a field with countless practical applications. This change has helped create numerous opportunities for people in Illinois to pursue personal interests in robotics. Students, in particular, have benefitted from various new ways to learn about robotics, from classes to club participation. A recent competition held in Chicago gave middle and high school students a chance to gain direct experience producing and working with robotics.
Over 300 students participated in the FIRST Tech Challenge Illinois Championship Tournament. The 32 competing teams prepared for the event by spending six months designing and building robots to take part in matches during the tournament. In each match, the robots were tasked with navigating a small arena to pick up balls and place them in cylinders. Each match began with the robots operating autonomously, and then students were permitted to take control of the robots to finish the match.
In addition to giving students more exposure to robotics, the event emphasized skills that are beneficial for people working in the field of robotics, such as teamwork. Two teams were paired to compete against two other teams during each match, and judges evaluated how well the teams cooperated. When assigning awards, judges considered the amount of time that each team dedicated to volunteering and helping other teams. The competition’s top award was based on the robot’s performance as well as the team’s demonstrated professionalism and volunteerism.
This event was structured as a competition, but it also served as a learning opportunity for many students. Participants were able to work closely with peers and learn from their techniques or experiences. Participants also gained hands-on practice at developing design ideas, building prototypes and making changes to produce a functional final design. This real-life experience may help many students gauge their interest in pursuing work in the growing robotics industry.
In recent years, the U.S. and numerous other countries have shown a rising demand for robots to serve in diverse roles. Robotics technology is employed in production in various industries, including the chemical, automotive, plastics and food industries. Robots are also anticipated to take on a rapidly increasingly number of jobs over the next decade. Improvements in functionality and cost-effectiveness may drive greater use of robotics technology in business operations and everyday life.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects growth through 2022 in various careers related to robotics. These occupations include mechanical engineering, computer engineering, electrical engineering and positions such as electro-mechanical technician. Ongoing advances in technology may support even more growth, making robotics an exciting field for young students to explore.