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Why BotsIQ is hosting the first-ever ‘Burgh Bash National Championship

Call it "BattleBots for kids," ED Michel Conklin says, with a goal of allowing high schoolers to showcase their skills while learning about career possibilities.

A high school robotics team at a BotsIQ event. (Courtesy photo)

Ever wanted to witness a robots-only battle royale? Well, you’re in luck: This weekend, 37 youth robotics teams are coming to Pittsburgh for the inaugural ‘Burgh Bash National Championship hosted by BotsIQ.

Only one team’s robot will be the victor.

BotsIQ Executive Director Michel Conklin said the goal of the ‘Burgh Bash is for its student participants to enjoy the competition and see what career opportunities could await them in the robotics industry.

“Our main goal through this program while it’s fun and exciting and really intense, is that we want them to know there are careers out there that use a lot of the skills that these kids have learned,” Conklin told Technical.ly.

The event will be held May 19 and 20. Typically at this time of year, the ED said, these robotics teams would be competing in the National Robotics League’s National Competition. But due to leadership changes, the event was unable to run as planned.

So high school students from Kansas City, St. Louis, Sacramento and Western Pennsylvania are gathering at Rosedale Technical College for the competition. Since BotsIQ had participated in the competition before through its Combat Robotics program, and so many of the competition’s participants live in or near the Keystone State multiple times, Conklin said taking the reins seemed like a natural solution.

A robot competes at a BotsIQ event. (Courtesy photo)

“This year when the event was canceled, obviously kids were disappointed because it is something that we’ve historically done really well at,” Conklin said. “And it’s a great opportunity to see top teams from across the country. We sort of talked with the regional program to gauge interest and said, ‘OK, let’s make it happen here. It makes the most sense, because of our location to bring everybody here.'”

During the two-day competition, you can expect to see dozens of 15-pound robots step — or roll — into the ring for a three-minute battle against another team’s robot that won’t be known until the round starts.

“The long and short of it is it BattleBots for kids. There are tap outs, and people get knocked out, but the challenge is to make it through this gladiator-style battle to the end with as little damage as possible,” Conklin said. “They get points for aggression, or can they hit somebody else and if they do some damage, they get points for that.”

BotsIQ is dedicated to manufacturing-focused workforce development, as a program of the Pittsburgh Chapter National Tooling & Machining Foundation. Conklin noted that as a nonprofit, hosting the competition couldn’t have happened without the work of dedicated volunteers who completed tasks ranging from making the trophies that’ll be awarded to winners to preparing the event space.

Competition robot. (Courtesy photo)

In the end, per Conklin, the point of the competition is for students to showcase their skills, highlight future career possibilities, and remind the region what the city’s manufacturing sector has to offer.

“My mission and our program’s mission is helping them understand how they can get from a combat robot competition to how they can make a career out of something that they’re truly passionate about,” said Conklin, an honoree of Technical.ly’s 2022 RealLIST Connectors in Pittsburgh. “It may not be repairing a combat robot, but there’s plenty of mechanical and electrical jobs out there and there’s a lot that’s happening in our region and a lot of opportunities for them.”

The competition is open to the public. If you can’t make it in person, you can catch a livestream on both days.

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.

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