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Robots are coming, and they’ve targeted the Knoxville Convention Center.

This is no science fiction nightmare, however. This robot invasion is the fifth annual FIRST Robotics Competition Smoky Mountain Regional, sponsored in part by the College of Engineering.

The event, to be held April 2–4, will bring fifty to fifty-five high school teams to town, with fifteen teams from the Knoxville area welcoming students from ten states stretching as far away as West Virginia and Ohio.

“Helping get students involved in technology, science, and engineering is a major goal of ours,” said Wayne Davis, dean of the college. “Sparking that quest for knowledge is big, not only for us as a college but for society as well. These students are the innovators of tomorrow.”

Teams will be competing in the latest incarnation of FIRST’s game, Recycle Rush.

For the game, teams have focused on designing, building, and programming robots that can stack plastic totes, place recycling bins on top of those totes, and then place litter—represented by pool noodles—into the recycling bins.

As in the past, teams from individual schools will form alliances with two other schools for each round, with the idea being that each school will likely have a robot focused on one of the three actions mentioned.

Doing so involves students with technology and also underscores one of FIRST’s biggest goals, fostering teamwork and collaboration. FIRST calls this “gracious professionalism.”

“Encouraging young minds is what this competition is all about,” said L. J. Robinson, regional director of FIRST (For Innovation and Recognition of Science and Technology) and President of TNFIRST LLC. “It’s important that students not only learn the advanced science required but also how to be a part of a team, how to get two teams to work together, etc.

“Helping a student realize that there are other people out there just like them, with their same interests, can be as key to building them up and keeping them interested in science and technology as the knowledge they’ve gained.”

Studies have found that students who participate in FIRST competitions are more than twice as likely to have a career in science or technology after college and almost four times as likely to be in engineering when compared to the general student population.

Worldwide, almost 75,000 high-school students across 3,000 teams will take place in the competition.

Teams received kits of basic parts back in winter and had six weeks to work on their creation before it was securely bagged in advance of the regional competitions.

The finals will be held April 22–25 in Saint Louis.


David Goddard (865-974-0683,

Karen Dunlap (865-974-8674,