Young Robot Enthusiasts Compete in 2nd Annual GEAR Tournament
By Traci Peterson
Posted on May 09, 2016, May 09, 2016


Weeks of planning, practice and patience paid off for young robotics enthusiasts Saturday, May 7 at the Get Excited About Robotics, or GEAR, tournament hosted by the Arlington Public Library.

The teams, about 20 in all, started building their NXT and EV3 LEGO Mindstorm robots in March. Each team is composed of two to three students, generally between 8 years old and eighth grade. The tournament at UT Arlington's Nedderman Hall brought together competitors from Arlington, Grapevine, Frisco and Richardson, said Marla Boswell, a library program specialist.

It is the second year the library has hosted the GEAR competition. Boswell said the Arlington library started offering free robotics classes a few years ago with the aid of grants from the Gene and Jerry Jones Family Foundation and Lockheed Martin.

"Libraries are kind of changing and getting more technology based and robotics are kind of the next step with students," Boswell said. "Each time I have a class open, I get a registration list and a waiting list. Everybody is so excited, they all sign up ... It's good to see them with that energy and drive."


Robert Acosta, CEO of GEAR Robotics, started the GEAR Competition - which is free to competitors - as a way to reach all students. He designed Saturday's Time Warp-themed course that challenged students to use their robots to collect "artifacts," or small pieces of plastic pipe, and put them in a small square container.

They also had to cap a "vortex," or horizontal orange cone, with a bright yellow tennis ball. All of the robots were pre-programmed by the teams to zoom through the courses and negotiate turns. Competitors said they spent eight to 10 hours a week over the past month getting ready.

Teams had two minutes during each round of competition to achieve the goals. They were judged on what their robot accomplished, as well as teamwork, creativity, critical thinking and engineering skills. Volunteer judges and referees moved around the competition, watching the robots and getting to know the young people.

"It's amazing to see how well they work together," said Bill Carlisle, a library volunteer who acted as judge on Saturday. "Sometimes they have very unique and different ways to solve the same problem."

Mikiah Sanderson, 12, who competed on one of the Arlington library teams, said GEAR is a great opportunity "if you like computers and problem-solving and challenges and computers and LEGOS."

She added: "It's also really fun."

The GEAR competition is an example of the Arlington City Council's priority to Support Quality Education.


From left to right, Tanner Sanderson, 8; Ryan Nutzman, 10 and Riley Sanderson, 7.

Anita Pai, whose 10-year-old son, Ryan Nutzman, was on another Arlington

library team, said it was a perfect fit for him because he loves LEGOs and has interest in computer programming. She was happy to see Ryan learn more about math, science, logistics and problem solving.

"For him, what's been great about this is learning how to trouble-shoot and learning perseverance," she said. "They'll put in something and it's a little off, so they'll tweak it and do it again and then, again and again."

Ryan, whose team sported matching homemade lab coats, said this year's GEAR competition won't be his last. He's already gearing up for next year.

"We've made tons of plans for that," he said.


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