SourceBots is a not-for-profit organisation aiming to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects to teenagers. It does this by hosting robotics challenges which encourage participants to work together in an environment markedly different to the way they would at school or college.
In particular, part of SourceBots philosophy is that participants should have to solve open-ended challenges as well as to manage their time and prioritise their efforts. This teaches valuable teamwork and time-management skills at a scale which participants might not otherwise meet until late in their university or working lives.
SourceBots is based at the University of Southampton’s Department of Electronics and Computer Science and is lead by its students, though is an independent organisation. It also benefits from contributors outside the University, including teachers and professional engineers as well as a number of generous sponsors.
Robotics Summer Schools
Each year, SourceBots works with the Smallpeice Trust to hosted an annual robotics competition for Year 12 students (age 16–17) at the University of Southampton.
This partnership allows the SourceBots volunteers to focus on providing the core event: an exciting week-long team challenge in which the participants design, build and program an autonomous robot, culminating in an action-packed knockout competition.
Low Barrier to Entry
One of the core aims of the project is to keep the barrier to entry as low as possible. Many of the competitors have little or no prior experience of programming or electronics. To cater for this, SourceBots volunteers run a number of tutorial sessions throughout the week to introduce participants to the fundamentals. Every team also has a dedicated mentor to help them through some of the more difficult problems they may encounter.
As the competitors have less than a week to build their robot and prepare for the competition, SourceBots provides them with all the parts needed to build a robot, as well as access to the fully equipped electronics, computer laboratories and workshop facilities at the University’s Department of Electronics and Computer Science.
Longer Robotics Competition
In 2018 SourceBots is hosting a much longer version of its successful summer school competitions in collaboration with schools in the south and south-east of the UK.
This competition sees teams of sixth-form students facing a similar technical challenge to that presented in the summer schools, though with the additional challenge of a four-month build period during which they must manage their own time and efforts.
While direct mentoring of some of the nearby teams is possible, the distance to more distant teams mean that other means of support are needed. Therefore, for this competition SourceBots focus is on remotely supporting teams and running periodic “Tech Days” which teams are invited to attend to get direct support.
If you would like to contribute to SourceBots, volunteers in the Southampton area are always welcome to assist in mentorship and setting up the arena. There are also many ways in which you can contribute online, such as writing software or preparing tutorial sessions; email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to get involved.