Most movies that bring robots to the big screen do so in heavy sci-fi, big budget fashion, such as the Transformers franchise or I, Robot. What about robots in a contemporary documentary, one that inspires STEM education? Bots High is a film that does so, following high school robot builders for a year as they design, build, and compete head to head in robot battles, while learning valuable lessons along the way in their quest to build to best robot in the nation.
Some might remember the former TV show BattleBots on Comedy Central. Though the show ended, the competitions continue. Bots High follows competitors in BotsIQ, their high school division.
"I was a huge fan of the show," says director and producer Joey Daoud. "When I found out a few years ago that not only did the competitions continue, but that high school kids built and competed, I was extremely interested -- and partly sad that I didn't know something this awesome existed in high school! While the show was great, it only focused on the battles, not what went into making the robots. I wanted to make a film that followed that process and showed all the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into making a robot."
The film follows three teams from various schools in Miami, FL. Some teams are fortunate enough to have a machine shop in their school, while others build at Starbot, a membership based machine shop geared exclusively for kids. In the film you see kids using high end CAD software, CNC mills, and other tools that most college engineering majors don't touch until their third or fourth year.
While the battling robots are the draw that first peaks the interest of young minds, like the USA Science and Engineering Festival, it's a program designed to get kids excited about science and engineering and inspire the next generation of innovators. You can see these future innovators in the film, such as the main student Will Bales, a son of an engineer who builds incredibly powerful robots - sometimes so powerful they destroy themselves before disabling their opponent.
While the US is struggling with unemployment, the irony is a lot of companies are struggling to fill vacant engineering positions due to lack of qualified applicants.
"It's a very much across-the-board phenomena," said Jeffrey Joerres, president and chief executive officer of Milwaukee-based ManpowerGroup, the world's second-largest provider of temporary workers behind Glattbrugg, Switzerland- based Adecco SA. (ADEN)"Companies are all feeling the pressure of not finding the level of talent their businesses require," from "entry-level service positions" to "high-end engineers."
Furthermore, robotics programs are great for building "soft skills," such as teamwork, communication, and time/project management. Keep in mind that these are high school kids who are building a robot while juggling school work and a social life. The film captures this attempt at balance, though mostly what you'll see is a lot of procrastinating, some flirting, and a lot of down to the wire robot building.
Bots High also highlights an important gender gap issue in science related fields. When graduating high school, boys and girls are equally prepared to go into engineering related fields, yet 84% of freshman engineering students are male. The gap only widens as you look further up the education ladder, ending at only 10% of professional engineers being women.
Out of the three teams followed in the film, two are all-girls teams from the Catholic high school Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart. Hopefully young girls will watch Bots High and see Elizabeth and Danielle from My Mechanical Romance, who put their heart and soul into their robot and overcome snide comments such as, "You're a girl? You do BattleBots? Do you even know what a motor is?" and think, "I can do that too!" (Danielle and Elizabeth end up at MIT and Duke's Pratt School of Engineering, respectively.)
Unlike will.i.am's i.am.FIRST special, there's no star power behind Bots High and no prime time air date scheduled. However, Daoud wants the film to be seen as far and wide as possible, which is why he's hosting a Free Worldwide Screening Day on October 6 -- anyone can join or host their own screening for free.
"I want the day to be an event. We already have over 40 screenings setup around the world -- I hope to have 100. But I want the screening of the film to be a platform for locations to do awesome things, like kick-off their robotics season, show off their projects, have mini-robot competitions, or just get kids (and adults) inspired! Plus we'll be having a live-streaming Q&A throughout the day with myself and "cast" and crew. Anyone can tweet in questions and we'll answer them."
To join a screening or host your own, go to www.botshigh.com/freeday http://www.botshigh.com/freeday.
Stills (Or I can send files): http://www.botshigh.com/press/photos/