ROBOTICON brings together students for space-themed event in Tampa

Interested in carbon dioxide cars? Or 120-pound robots? You can check them out at ROBOTICON, expected to draw nearly 1,000 high school students to the University of South Florida’s Yuengling Center Saturday and Sunday, September 29 and 30.

“It’s like a big sporting event, except the sport is robotics,” says Robert Bishop, Dean of USF’s College of Engineering, which is co-hosting the event on the Tampa campus.

“We want people to understand science is fun,” explains Terri Willingham, Executive Director of the Foundation for Community Driven Innovation, a not-for-profit organizing and co-hosting ROBOTICON. “It’s within the reach of every child.”

ROBOTICON gives students as young as 6 an opportunity to engage in educational activities in the areas of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math, also known as STEAM. Foundation for Community Driven Innovation.

This year’s event, which is space-themed, features Kurt Leucht, who works in the electronics and circuits group at Kennedy Space Center. Leucht will be talking about what it’s like to work for NASA and visiting with guests during the day Saturday.

ROBOTICON, in its sixth year, will give visitors a chance to test carbon dioxide cars in a Jet Stream 500 wind tunnel to discover the vehicles with the best aerodynamics, and what feature is behind it. That event is hosted by STEMWERX, a mobile STEM lab encouraging young people to pursue careers in motorsports and the automotive industry.

The event includes an Innovation Fair with commercial and industrial robotics, plus educational exhibits. Visitors will be able to tour Team Pits, where members work on robots, and talk to students, view demos and exhibits, and learn more about long-range plans for an advanced manufacturing and robotics center.

Students will be competing in the robotics offseason in four categories: the FIRST Robotics contest for high schoolers with up to 120-pound robots; the FIRST Tech Challenge for 7th through 12th grade teams; the FIRST Lego League for 4th through 8th grade team scrimmages and practice games; and FIRST LEGO League Jr. Expo for roboticists 6 to 9.

This year they’ll be using their new Tampa Bay field, a portable field the size of a volleyball court built by Electro Mechanical Solutions of Odessa FL.

The event, slated from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days, is free, although there is a $10 fee for parking outside the Yuengling Center, formerly known as the USF Sun Dome. Reservations are recommended

To learn more or participate as a volunteer, exhibitor, sponsor or donor, visit, where details will be posted closer to the event.

Sponsors include USF, Hillsborough County, Lockheed Martin, Jabil, JPMorgan Chase, USF Connect and the Florida High Tech Corridor, the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, Women in Defense, SourceToad, Visit Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Sports Commission.

All the fun not only trains students in robotics and tech but also in life skills.

Robert Bishop is Dean of USF’s College of Engineering.“I’ve always been fascinated in the last three years by the level of teamwork. It’s clearly one of the strengths of FIRST Robotics programs,” Bishop says. “I think it’s really an exercise that broadens their understanding of what does it take to be in the STEM field. You don’t invent devices all by yourself.”

The event is part of a burgeoning Tampa Bay tech community.

“There’s a growing sense of, I think, excitement, as Tampa moves more and more being into being considered a high tech innovative district,” says Bishop, who earned a Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer engineering at the Houston-based Rice University. “I see this as part of an ecosystem being developed in Tampa around a notion of tech and innovation.”

He sees USF, which has its own Center for Assistive, Rehabilitation and Robotics Technologies, playing a central role.

“These students are the next generation of explorers. Engineering is key to the solution of many of the problems that face us today in the world,” he adds. “But engineering cannot solve those problems alone. Those problems have to be solved by teams.”

Learn more about FIRST Robotics here.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Cheryl Rogers.

Cheryl Rogers is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys writing about careers. An ebook author, she also writes Bible Camp Mystery series that shares her faith. She is publisher of New Christian Books Online Magazine and founder of the Mentor Me Career Network, a free online community, offering career consulting, coaching and career information. Now a wife and mother, Cheryl discovered her love of writing as a child when she became enthralled with Nancy Drew mysteries. She earned her bachelor's degree in Journalism and Sociology from Loyola University in New Orleans. While working at Loyola's Personnel Office, she discovered her passion for helping others find jobs. A Miami native, Cheryl moved to the Temple Terrace area in 1985 to work for the former Tampa Tribune