The skills gap is real, folks. Only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career. Only 30 percent of high school seniors who took the ACT test were cleared for college-level sciences.
That’s a problem.
Robotics has proved to be a good way of getting kids interested in STEM, and the Sumo Robot League takes a unique approach to closing the skills gap. The Sumo Robot League combines robotics and sports to get kids interested in coding. The kids, using kits, build autonomous robots that try to push each other out of a circular ring – just like real sumo wrestling. 7th grader Amberlee Cook, the Sumo Robot League champion, won a $1,000 scholarship.
No, it’s not like Battlebots. The sumo bots don’t have circular saws, flamethrowers, or any other devices that inflict damage on their opponents. In fact, damage is frowned upon, according to Sumo Robot League founder Eric Parker. The league, which targets middle and high school students, doesn’t want a kid’s first memory of their robot to be it getting ripped to shreds.
And the idea is catching on. Run by the non-profit HACK Augusta and theClubhou.se makerspace and startup incubator, the Sumo Robot League taught 400 kids how to build their own robots last year, and 500 kids are already signed on for the upcoming season. Parker says they also partnered with a company in South Korea to launch a league over there.
The goal of the Sumo Robot League is to teach all kids how to build robots. The league currently has school partners is seven states, but is looking to soon go national. The problem is that, thus far, each robot kit the league has supplied has been a “handcrafted labor of lover.” But the Sumo Robot League is now working with the Georgia Center of Innovation for Manufacturing on an injection mold simplify the manufacturing process.
“When a kid gets to go through the entire design process of their robot, it makes them want to code because [the robot] is an extension of themselves,” Parker says. “The off-the-shelf kits don’t have the uniqueness that makes the robot their own. These sumo robots become their little mini-me’s.
Parker joined The Robotics Trends Show to discuss the vision of the Sumo Robot League, its future, and how it addresses STEM education in middle school and high school settings.