UA to Host Robot Programming Competition

Students compete in the 2011 Alabama Robotics Competition in the rotunda of Shelby Hall while parents, teachers and UA professors watch.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — More than 100 students from third graders to seniors in high school from across Alabama will be at The University of Alabama April 21 telling robots what to do and hoping their instructions are good enough to win the Alabama Robotics Competition.

The competition, which is in its second year, is hosted by the UA College of Engineering’s department of computer science. The goal is to spur interest in computer science among elementary and high school students, said Dr. Jeff Gray, associate professor of computer science.

“Software is driving automation,” Gray said. “Software is everywhere, and computer scientists are the ones who are enabling the growth of automation.”

Unlike other robotics competitions, students will not be judged on building the robot, rather how the robot performs in obstacle courses set up in the rotunda of Shelby Hall. Students will program the robots at a computer before watching the robots autonomously carry out their instructions on the playing field.

“It’s a programming contest within the context of a robotics competition,” Gray said. “We take a fun context and make it exciting for the students, but they are still learning the fundamentals.”

Many of the contestants will use a graphic-based programming language that allows for contestants as young as third graders to program their robot, and Gray said there has been a lot of interest from elementary schools in the competition.

“We’re trying to raise awareness about computer science around the state among students,” he said.

Each contestant will bring their own robot to the competition already assembled.There will be three obstacle courses of varying difficulty for the contestants. A robot scores points while maneuvering through obstacles, and the tiebreaker is the time it takes the robot to finish, Gray said. More than $3,000 in prizes will be awarded. Sponsors of the contest include Google, Bulheller Consulting, CTS, Pearson and the National Science Foundation.

A year ago, Gray held a small contest with about 25 students from select schools around the state, and the overwhelmingly positive feedback led to a full-scale contest with more than 110 students with 200 parents coming to Shelby Hall.

Dr. Monica Anderson, an assistant professor of computer science, will give a keynote address at lunch. Anderson directs the distributed autonomy lab, a robotics lab, within the department of computer science. Participants and families will also be given a tour of the computer science labs on campus.

Registration begins at 10 a.m. in Shelby Hall, and the contest will be from noon to 3 p.m. in the rotunda. More information about the contest, including photos and results after the contest, can be found at

In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s fully accredited College of Engineering has more than 3,300 students and more than 100 faculty. In the last eight years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater, Hollings, Portz and Truman scholars.


Adam Jones, engineering public relations, 205/348-6444,


Dr. Jeff Gray, 205/348-2847,