GEAR (Get Excited About Robotics) is a 6-8 week LEGO robotics challenge for elementary and middle school students during which student teams build and program LEGO robots (using the MINDSTORMS NXT kits) to perform specified tasks. To solve the challenge, students learn engineering skills through a teaming exercise in designing, building, programming, testing, and troubleshooting wheeled LEGO robots that perform and compete on an eight foot by eight foot field. GEAR itself (www.gearrobotics.org) is a nonprofit 501(c) 3 volunteer organization, which was created to foster interest among today’s youth in a career in engineering, science or technology. It provides the game rules for the annual competition together with instructions on how to build game tables and piece. GEAR also maintains Question and Answer and Frequently Asked Questions sections on their website. GEAR tournaments are held at various locations; for more information regarding GEAR tournaments outside of Lubbock, TX, please check the GEAR Website.
The robots are easily assembled from parts included in the LEGO MINDSTORMS kit that includes structural elements, wheels, axles, gears, motors, sensors, and a simple microprocessor with rechargeable battery. Programming is accomplished through an intuitive graphical user interface patterned after the widely used LabVIEW laboratory instrumentation package from National Instruments. Communication with the microprocessor is through Bluetooth or the computer USB port. The challenge is designed around a fictive story that motivates the need for autonomous robots, e.g. a robot operating at Antarctica.
Since 2006, the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering at Texas Tech University hosted a local GEAR hub for the competition in Lubbock. Dr. Tanja Karp from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering has organized the competition. During this time period, the competition has grown from a trial run held with Harwell Elementary School in 2006 to a competition with about 150 participating teams with over 500 students from 35 elementary and middle schools from all over the South Plains. Through the involvement of engineering undergraduate students as mentors, participants were exposed at an early age to the engineering discipline. This is important in a low-income area that does not offer many engineering jobs and where participants typically do not have any engineers as role models in their families.