Sunday, March 25, 2012

RoboBots Battle 2012 and the 40 hour STEM week

Yesterday, March/24/2012, I went to the regional Robot Battle RoboBots: Battle Your Bot Off! 2012. This yearly event is the regions attempt to get young people interested in doing hands-on Embedded type work. This year there were 17 schools of 33 teams. You may see some pathetically poor quality videos of the event I took on my YouTube Channel (The crummy AT&T cell phone service in the area limits the length of video uploads to about eight seconds max, when it worked at all).

RoboBots is patterned after the BattleBots [TM] Competitions. The basic idea is two Bots go into the glass cage, one comes own functioning as the winner of the round and the looser comes out in pieces. While some might say this is promoting violence, most say it is promoting an understanding of the laws of physics in the Real World, and not the dry abstract texts of a physics book.

Do you remember such things as calculating the coefficient-of-rebound, or the transfer-of-momentum when two rotating objects touch from your Physics Class? BORING! Lets actually see what happens when metal collides with metal, and rotating drum meets rotating saw blade! Of course there are stringent rules under strict supervision so that no one is injured. These events are the type needed to attract the hands-on Kinesthetic Learners (the ones born with The Knack), into vocational fields.

"The shortage of people who know how to build, program, maintain, and repair robots has gotten so severe that, in some parts of the country, qualified candidates can practically write their own ticket." - Revenge of the robotics nerds: They're in demand By Anne Fisher in CNN Fortune & Money.

Sounds like a great and growing field to get into doesn't it? Maybe not, as a couple of the following quotes show:

"[The Automotive Industry] ... laid off thousands of workers, large numbers of robotics experts left the industry ... those people aren't coming back." - [IDem.]

"So, after a lifetime of watching older members [Like one or both of their parents] of the science and engineering community get outsourced, downsized, run ragged, and generally mistreated by their employers, young people don't want to sign up for the same thing?

Good for them. Maybe the kids today are smarter than we thought." - commenter on SlashDot.org; Science and Engineering Workforce Has Stalled In the US.

I frequently see articles by The Establishment (the mythical 'Them') trying to push youth into in the categories of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). The purveyors of such articles seem at a loss wondering why no one is interested. It is as simple as the work is hard (no mater how rewarding it might be), undervalued by management (frequently seen as an expendable easy to replace commodity) and society in general. Under paid compared to those frequently seen in the media of athletes, celebrates, politicians and banksters (if you or I did what Wall Street did/does we'd be in jail). Also there is a constant fear the job will be outsourced to a foreign country, or that someone willing to work for less than a livable wage on a H-1B visa will take their job. Then there is my personal pet peeve of the long hours demanded by management. What is there not to get when it comes to lack of interest in these fields?

As far back as 150 years ago during the Industrial Revolution it was found that tired workers make more mistakes and have more injuries. As fatigue and burnout mount productivity starts to go backwards compared to a standard forty hour week. For some more modern statistics take a look at the following articles:

Then there is also the lack of vacation time. American workers have become so fearful of losing their job if they take any vacation, at companies that at least claim to offer it on paper, that they take none and further increase their burnout and lowering the company's bottom-line in the process.

So are you now ready to sign up for a STEM based career?