Robotics Contest Helps Develop Future Tech Leaders

When John Sperry first introduced Battlebots to his Anderson High School physics students a few years back, he didn’t think that their interest in robots would help him create a pre-engineering program there or bring recognition to his students. “Anderson had a solid reputation as a school that had great athletic programs, but there wasn’t a way to recognize students who were interested in physics and robotics,” Sperry said.

Today, the ausTIN Cans Robotics team has traveled to national robotic championships. More importantly, the program has grown to the point that Sperry’s students are working with future students who may attend Anderson High School. Sperry, through the growth and recognition of the ausTIN Cans program, has grown from teaching chemistry and physics to a curriculum where his students become CAD Solidworks certified as well as master the basics of computer aided manufacturing programs.

Through FIRST, Anderson students are now working on a program to help other students in the lower grade embrace robotics. Sperry, with his students, is working with elementary and middle school students to embrace robotics through special summer programs.

Building a robot team can cost some money. Every year, high school programs like Anderson have to raise between $15 to $50 thousand to fund the cost of building a robot. Travel costs and other expenses also add to a typical program’s costs.

That’s why Sperry and his students are hosting the Robotics Roundup July 27-28 at his school as a fund raiser. Included in the event is a teacher training program for prospective FIRST coaches as well as a group of seminars for students.

“We’re working with community leaders to speak to our students in a TED like setting,” Sperry said. “Each speaker will give 15 minutes to speak to our students on a topic that will help motivate them.” Sperry said he expects about 30 or more schools from all over Texas to take part in his two-day event. Their entry fees, along with the corporate sponsorships, will help defray the cost of the event. More importantly, it will build the seed money to fund the ausTIN Cans to travel to competitions during 2012-13.

Sperry said he hopes Austin business leaders and those interested in helping their children learn about robotics come to the two-day event. All of the competition begins at 9 a.m. Saturday. However, they may also want to drop by Anderson to watch the set up of the robots on July 27.

Those who want to learn more about the competition can visit www.roundup.org. Interested volunteers can also email robotroundup@gmail.com to learn about volunteer opportunities.