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 EV3 and 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. These robots then perform and compete on an 8-by-8-foot field. GEAR itself (www.gearrobotics.org) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) volunteer organization that was created to foster interest among today’s youth in engineering, science, and technology. It provides the game rules for the annual competition with instructions on how to build game tables and pieces. GEAR also maintains Question and Answer and Frequently Asked Questions sections on its 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, which 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 done through Bluetooth or a computer's USB port. The challenge is designed around a fictive story that motivates the need for autonomous robots (i.e. a robot operating in Antarctica).
Since 2006, the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering at Texas Tech University has 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 are 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.