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Businesses to Compete in Robot Fun Run

Robot Run Group 2 2013

Any event bringing together teams in competition involving LEGOs® and robots is bound to bring smiles.

You just don’t often think of adults being the ones in a LEGO competition.

That’s exactly what will happen on Friday, June 27 from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the atrium of Wake Forest Biotech Place at the 2014 Robot Fun Run Community Challenge, a role-reversed world where middle-school aged students provide the teaching expertise to adults.

The event will feature up to a dozen teams of adults, coached by Winston-Salem/Forsyth County middle school students, competing for a chance at LEGO glory.

The competition requires teams to program a LEGO robot, in just a few hours, to do tasks such as picking up objects or crossing a LEGO bridge. The more tasks completed in the 2 ½ minute competition period, the more points a team accumulates, with the winners receiving their own LEGO trophy.

“You see the surprise on adults’ faces and joy when they get engaged. To me, that’s what is great about the Robot Fun Run,’’ says Eric Tomlinson, president of the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter and chief innovation officer for Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “It is an enormously creative event, requiring a high degree of teamwork and engagement.’’

Tie-in With County Event in Fall

The Robot Fun Run is co-sponsored by Cook Medical, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and Wake Forest Innovation Quarter and has ties to the Forsyth County Robot Run in the fall. The fall event features teams from 17 middle schools in the local system against each other in building and programming LEGO MINDSTORMS® robots to compete.

The aim of the Robot Fun Run is to increase awareness of the yearly Winston-Salem robotics program which is designed to get middle-school aged students excited about STEM related employment and life skills.

“And if those businesses decide to bring their participation and volunteerism to the Forsyth County Robot Run after participating in the Robot Fun Run, we consider it a great success,” says Lindsey Yarborough, manager of public activities for Wake Forest Innovation Quarter. “It’s such a fun way for our community to come together and show support of local STEM programs in the hub of innovation, the Innovation Quarter”

The inaugural Robot Fun Run crown was captured last year by Small Footprint, a software development services company based in Winston-Salem, with the Wake Forest School of Medicine, Biomedical Engineering and Sciences team finishing a close second.

Yarborough says it was an intense event, with the top teams especially competitive. Both of those teams are coming back for this year’s event, as are many of the other competitors. Once again, each of the adult teams will be assigned a student mentor with experience from successful teams in the Forsyth County Robot Run.

Up to 10 teams are expected for the event, which is open to the public.

“The majority of the competitors had no idea what they were getting into last year,’’ Yarborough says. “It’s fun to watch the roles being flipped and the student becoming the teacher.’’

Promoting STEM to Children

The broad goal of the Robot Fun Run is to show students how creative and innovative careers can be in the STEM fields.

“The particular age, middle school, is an impressionable time period to really get kids excited about science, technology, engineering and math,’’ Yarborough says.

With Innovation Quarter attracting new businesses in the biotechnology, information technology and materials sciences, Tomlinson says programs such as the Robot Fun Run hold promise for retaining bright minds.

“One of the goals is to set students on a path toward training that could lead to a job here or even create a company one day,’’ Tomlinson says. “It’s all part of that continuum of engaging the community and promoting creativity that is so important.”