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UT welcomes more than 2,500 students, families and teachers from around the region to Thompson-Boling Arena Thursday through Saturday, March 23-25, for the annual Smoky Mountains Regional FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition.

UT’s Tickle College of Engineering helps sponsor the event in which teams of high school students compete to develop robots capable of performing specific tasks based on a central game theme.

Teams have practice sessions on Thursday, with qualifying matches taking place throughout Friday and Saturday. 

The family-friendly event is free and open to the public. The event begins at 8:30 a.m. each morning and ends at 5 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. The finals are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Saturday with an awards ceremony following.

This year’s competition—STEAMWORKS—blends the knowledge students have of robotics with a science fiction subculture known as steampunk. In this type of fiction, Victorian-era society has some pieces of modern technology, only they are powered by steam.

According to L.J. Robinson, regional director for FIRST Robotics for Tennessee and Kentucky, STEAMWORKS will have teams prepare airships for long-distance travel by racing to supply it with one of three components.

This specialization means that each robot must be designed to conquer one task only, forcing three teams to band together in an alliance to complete the overall project.

The teams’ three tasks are loading fuel on the ship in the form of grapefruit-sized balls, installing gears on the ship to make it go and climbing into the ship to begin the voyage.

Teams received identical kits in January and had six weeks to complete their robots before they were sealed and stored.

Each team can tackle only one aspect of the challenge, which means forming partnerships with other schools is the key to overall success. FIRST Robotics calls this “gracious professionalism”— learning to achieve goals together and working for the greater good.

While Knoxville plays host to the Smoky Mountains Regional, more than 75,000 students around the world will take part in various other regionals, with top teams advancing to the finals in St. Louis on April 26.

Tickle College of Engineering Associate Dean Masood Parang said helping with the event allows the college to nurture the next generation of engineers and scientists.



Christie Kennedy (865-974-0686,