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This image shows what a game of FIRST Robotics’ Aerial Assist, a football-like game played by robots, might look like.
This image shows what a game of FIRST Robotics’ Aerial Assist, a football-like game played by robots, might look like.

Football season is still months away, but those needing a quick fix before fall can get a chance to see a version of the game played by competitors functioning like well-oiled machines.

The FIRST Robotics Competition Smoky Mountain Regional returns to the Knoxville Convention Center March 26–29, and is centered around a game featuring strong elements from football and soccer called Aerial Assist.

The idea behind Aerial Assist is that the fifty teams at the competition—from as far away as Saint Louis and as close as the L&N STEM Academy across World’s Fair Park—will each build a robot capable of throwing, kicking, or running with a round ball with the goal of scoring a goal at each end of a field, or one capable of playing defense.

The UT College of Engineering helps sponsor the event along with various technology and industry organizations such as NASA, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

UT faculty and staff enjoy the competition and the chance to invest in tomorrow’s innovators, helping fulfill the vision of FIRST—For Innovation and Recognition of Science and Technology.

“We like getting a chance to help tomorrow’s students stay focused on and enjoy working in science- and tech-related fields,” said UT College of Engineering Dean Wayne Davis. “It’s a chance for us to give back and at the same time maybe open some eyes to the possibilities that are there in those areas of study.”

At the competition, alliances consisting of three teams are made, with the idea that the various teams work together to overcome the strengths and weaknesses of each individual robot. The winning alliance will then move on to the world championships in Saint Louis.

“As much as the goal of each team is to build their own robot, we have the larger goal of encouraging cooperation and sharing ideas,” said L. J. Robinson, regional director for TNFIRST, the local organization tasked with running the Smoky Mountain Regional. “We have a guiding concept called gracious professionalism that has even led opposing teams to help one another. That gets back to the goal of trying to encourage students as much as possible.”

While teams aren’t bound by geography and can register for regional competitions in a wide variety of locations, Knoxville has grown over the years to become somewhat of a sought-after destination.

“We have spots for fifty teams, but those spots fill up quickly,” said Robinson. “We always hold back four or five spots for new teams who might have trouble figuring out the registration process when it goes live, but the rest of those filled in a hurry.”

One of the other UT College of Engineering tie-ins will also be on display at this year’s event, as a Tennessee team composed entirely of engineering students who once took part in the FIRST competition will be on hand to show off the robot they have built now that that they are at UT.

Even with the increased emphasis on STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—education, the ability of teams to compete despite the costs associated in participating speaks to support sponsors give, both financially and emotionally.

“It’s important to show what you can become, what you can do if you stick with it,” said Davis. “Engineering can be fun, and that’s something that’s important to share as well.”

More on UT’s College of Engineering can be seen here.

More on the FIRST Robotics Competition can be found here.

Information on the TNFIRST Smoky Mountain Regional can be found here.

C O N T A C T :

David Goddard (865-974-0683,