Instructor to Champion RoboRAVE in Alburquerque (Spain)

Nov. 20, 2013 -- Fabian Lopez won’t be eating turkey and watching football with his family this Thanksgiving. Instead, he’ll be in Alburquerque, Spain, trying to interest the local schools and students in participating in his favorite project -- RoboRAVE International.
July 16, 2015
CNM instructor and RoboRAVE co-founder Fabian Lopez talks robo-strategy with a student.

“We want our sister city in Spain to be part of our annual competition that attracts more than 1,600 students to Albuquerque, N.M., to see who has built the best robot,” said Lopez, a 31-year CNM veteran who teaches classes in robotics, micro-machines, electronics and math.

And yes, there’s an “r” after the first “u” in Alburquerque, Spain.

RoboRAVE2.jpegThis won’t be the first time Lopez has traveled to Europe to entice school officials and students to join the contest. In September 2012, he and other RoboRAVE representatives, along with students from East Mountain High School, went to the Czech Republic and attracted interest. As a result, teams from the Central European country came to Albuquerque to compete in the 2013 RoboRAVE International. The Czech Republic held their version of RoboRAVE, RoboRAVE Czech Republic, earlier this year.

Lopez will be venturing to Alburquerque, Spain, with Russ Fisher-Ives, president of the nonprofit organization that runs RoboRAVE and the event co-founder, and Pam Feather, a Hewlett Packard engineer, to meet with students and teachers to explore the possibility of creating a new annual RoboRave competition there. If they start a RoboRAVE Spain, students from that country can compete in RoboRAVE International.

Lopez, Fisher-Ives and Feather will be taking robots with them to use in a week-long series of robot construction and programming workshops for Spanish teachers and students.

“If we are successful, Alburquerque, Spain, may be able to boast a flagship robotics conference that could draw in many visitors annually, generating revenue for the local economy,” Lopez said.

Alburquerque, Spain, is a town of about 5,500 people, located near the border with Portugal. It has been hit hard by European austerity measures and currently has a 30 percent unemployment rate.

The competition used to be mostly for young New Mexicans, but in 2008 it went international when teams of foreign students joined the contest. The 2014 RoboRAVE International competition, scheduled for May 1-3 at the Albuquerque Convention Center, is expected to draw students with their hand-built robots from 25 New Mexico counties and from the countries of Colombia, China, the Czech Republic, Mexico and Spain. Teams from Argentina, Bangladesh, Canada, France, Japan and Slovakia have also indicated an intention to compete.

Lopez co-founded RoboRAVE (for robots and Robots Are Very Educational) in 2001 with Fisher-Ives, a retired Rio Rancho science teacher, and Chris Brady, a Rio Rancho technology teacher. The trio had helped a Rio Rancho robotics team in another competition. The kits to build the robots for that competition were expensive – about $6,000 each. They wanted to run an affordable robotics competition that allowed students from average-income homes to participate.

The first year it was held, RoboRAVE took place in the Eagle Ridge Middle School gym in Rio Rancho, drawing 25 high school students and three teachers. The competition steadily grew, expanding to a high school gym and later to the Albuquerque Convention Center.

Students come to the competition in teams of two to four members with their robots finished and ready to roll – a lot like the Boy Scout’s Pinewood Derby. The students compete in four categories, including elementary school, middle school, high school and beyond high school. Since 2002, Inquiry Facilitators, the nonprofit which runs the competition, has provided nearly 200 robotics workshops for students and teachers to help them with robot design and programming. The workshops have been conducted throughout New Mexico.

The robots compete in several areas. In one, robots carrying ping pong balls have to follow a black line using sensors, detect the presence of a tower, deposit the balls into the tower and return to the starting point – all in three minutes. In another, robots wield wooden sticks as they follow a black line using sensors to find their way. When they encounter the other robot, they engage in a jousting contest to knock each other over.

“In building the robots and competing against other teams, they learn a lot about science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And they have fun doing it.” Lopez said. “It does my heart good to see the kids get so excited.”