UT Robotics and Automaton Society kicks off the 2016 Robotathon season

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Shantanu Kanvinde

Energy surged through a crowd of around two hundred students, including aspiring roboticists and members of the UT Robots and Automaton Society, as they gathered for the Robotathon 2016 Kickoff Tuesday evening at Ernest Cockrell Jr. Hall.

Jonathan Valvano, professor of electrical and computer engineering and faculty mentor of Robotics and Automoton Society expressed his excitement at the spirit in the room. 

“Look at the energy here in the room,” Valvano said. “Take this energy here, multiply it by a hundred, and that’s what it’s like during the competition. They’re all jumping up and down, all being supportive of each other.”

Electrical engineering junior Shantanu Kanvinde, president of RAS, opened the meeting by welcoming new freshmen.

“Robotathon is an introductory robotics competition held by UT RAS, built towards bringing in new members of all different skill levels and teaching them how to build … no prior experience necessary,” Kanvinde said. “The goal of Robotathon is to spread the craft, develop the field of robotics and get it branched throughout all the majors.”

The rules of this year’s Robotathon, to be held on Monday, Nov. 21, included limits to what parts are allowed and required routine checkpoints.

After this year’s highly anticipated theme was announced — a search-and-deliver game based on Pokemon Go, with Pokeballs and Pokestops included — Kanvinde announced assigned teams and mentors so that they could meet up and begin planning for the two months ahead.

Math sophomore Isabel Cachola and Alex Gerome, an electrical engineering and computer science senior, who have both been involved with Robotathon since their freshman years, agreed that they both love the memories that they made at the event.

“I’m pretty sure that everyone in RAS who’s done Robotathon will say that Robotathon is their favorite part,” Gerome, former president of RAS and a current Robotathon mentor for freshmen, said. “And just because the atmosphere that the mentors try to set up — it’s supposed to be fun, not a class.” 

Gerome said the Robotathon gives younger engineering students a taste of interesting applications of engineering and robotics that they don’t always get in their introductory classes.

“Your freshman year, you don’t really get to see a lot of applicable stuff in engineering — it’s a lot of basic theory,” Gerome said. “This is like a side project … something to really remember fondly going through college.”

Last year, Robotathon featured a robot soccer competition that Cachola participated in, through which she feels she learned a lot of valuable technical skills that she hadn’t had before. 

“I didn’t do robotics in high school, and I thought it was one of things I should’ve done in high school, so I actually sought out a robotics organization,” she said. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot of really useful skills.”

Some students, like Cachola, participate in Robotathon because they have little experience in robotics and want to learn. Others, like mechanical engineering freshman Nicolas Renteria, are eager to jump into the practice after prior high school experience. 

“My favorite part about robotics is working with others. I really enjoy listening to other peoples’ ideas — how they approach problems — and it’s just a really great learning experience,” Renteria explained.

Kanvinde agreed that robotics is a journey of learning and improving.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that even if you have absolutely no idea how to solve the problem you have at the time, there is always going to be somebody who knows what to do,” Kanvinde said. “What RAS has taught me is that you’ve got backup.”