The National Robotics League (NRL) is a job-driven, project-based STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning experience sponsored by the National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA). In a team-oriented environment at their school, students are immersed in the manufacturing process of researching, designing, building and testing of a 15-lb. bot to compete in gladiator-style robot creation and battle competitions.
We spoke to Bill Padnos, director of Youth Engagement for the NTMA, to learn more about the competition.
Digital Engineering: Can you provide an overview of the NRL competition, how it came to be and the program’s intent?
Bill Padnos: NTMA launched the National Robotics League in 2009. The NRL is influenced by a variety of similar educational combat robotics leagues, but it is unique in that it places a large emphasis on connecting teams to industry partners not only for financial and material contributions, but also to serve as mentors and role models who can help students see how the work they are doing translates directly into experiences and skills that are highly sought by manufacturing employers and engineering school recruiters.
The NRL is funded by a grant from the National Tooling and Machining Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit designed to fund manufacturing education. Its purpose is to create a skilled, tech-savvy labor force that can meet the needs of modern manufacturing, spark student and teacher interest in manufacturing and engineering, connect students to local manufacturers to create industry exposure and address the labor shortage in manufacturing.
DE: Who will be participating or who has participated?
Padnos: The National Robotics League attracts smart, capable students who love to build things and solve problems—exactly the type of young people who we hope will make up the next generation of manufacturing leaders. The NRL consists of 15 regional competitions involving over 200 schools and over 2,500 participants across the nation, culminating in our annual national competition (May 18-19 at the California University of Pennsylvania campus).
DE: Can you tell us about some of the designs that are part of the event and how they came to be?
Padnos: One of the most important components of the National Robotics League system and what sets it apart from other robotics leagues is the requirement of an engineering binder and its importance to final scores. You can design the greatest bot ever made, but you can’t compete or go to market without an engineering binder. This facet of the competition pushes student teams to critically consider each aspect and design element of their bot much like the way a skilled worker evaluates his or her handiwork. This drives home the point that these students are developing marketable, necessary technical skills in mechanical and electrical engineering, machining and welding along with interpersonal skills.