Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are the four major pillars of STEM education. STEM disciplines are challenging to master, and elementary education is often deficient around these intricate subjects. I remember my own childhood education considerably lacking in STEM-focused classes, which made my jump into university-level computer science quite a shocking experience. In order to cultivate interest within young minds, early exposure to these complex topics is crucial.

The Sumo Robot League is a STEM-oriented program that uses robotics to inspire middle and high school students. Operated by HACK Augusta, students design and build their very own robots, entering their finished creations into a fully autonomous sumo wrestling tournament hosted in Augusta, Georgia. By merging friendly competition, programming basics, design, and engineering, students gain confidence exploring the fundamentals of technology.

This program teaches the core principles of STEM in an interactive, encouraging environment. During multiple hands-on lessons, students build their own electrical circuits, code sensor-based autonomous response algorithms using the C++ programming language, and design 3D printed adaptive components.

(Image Credit: Sumo Robot League)

The Sumo Robot League worked with The Georgia Center of Innovation for Manufacturing to help produce the required tracks for the educational robots. The two companies are currently communicating to expand the production scale to meet the increasing demands. 

When asked about working with the Sumo Robot League, John Morehouse, the director of The Georgia Center of Innovation for Manufacturing, stated, "I think what they're doing is really incredible and a great idea. They really knock down the barrier of entry-level STEM education in the classroom."

Morehouse continued to explain how this program enforces key hands-on learning, as well as soft skills such as teamwork, critical thinking, and problem solving. "These skills are needed in the manufacturing workforce today. Manufacturers really want to see more of these 21st century skills developed earlier in the educational system, as well as the technology skills that span multiple disciplines."

"What Sumo is doing is making it easy for teachers to insert problem-based learning into the classroom at a low cost. And I think the long-term impact will be very positive in preparing graduates for the workforce," Morehouse concluded.

(Image Credit: Sumo Robot League)

Eric Parker, the co-founder of Sumo Robot League, described his thoughts on the program: "A great way for students to care about STEM is to make it a sport. When kids are building their robot, they can get into the physics of the design, diameter of the wheels, torque values, and mathematics."

Since the robots are completely autonomous in competition, it's important to have built-in search algorithms, judgement of distance, and color differentiation. 

"We started this because we wanted people to build and code this robot." Parker continues. "The world is getting increasingly automated. We feel that for everyone to have opportunities for their future, it's a fundamental skill set."

The program's long-term goals include everyone learning the very basics of STEM. In order to achieve such an expansive objective, the short-term sights are set closer to home, hoping to reach five percent of the Georgia student audience and matching that number with out-of-state participants. 

Every educational subject, from technology to the arts, serves an important role in the development of our society. The passion for knowledge doesn't have a singular origin, as we all dedicate our curious minds towards different disciplines. Sparking an early interest in STEM-oriented subjects requires great programs like the Sumo Robot League, hopefully motivating the brilliant thinkers of tomorrow.