Annual Robo-Hoops contest lets students show off their robot skills

January 27, 2009

You might not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but you can certainly teach a robot how to shoot a basketball. Just ask Bob Avanzato, creator of "Robo-Hoops," the annual robot design contest at Penn State Abington.

The contest, established in 1995, brings teams and individuals from all over the region to the Abington campus to show off their skills.

Robots go head-to-head in a 60-second basketball game, dunking and shooting foam basketballs into a net 12 inches above the "court." Teams are awarded one point for a dunk and two points for a free throw.

Avanzato, associate professor of engineering at Penn State Abington, describes the atmosphere as intense, but fun.

"There's a great deal of mechanical and software work, last minute adjustments, conversations, joking. And consumption of large quantities of soda and pizza," he added.

Avanzato was pleased to see some fresh faces at the 2008 competition, held on Dec. 6.

He cited a high school from Morrisdale, Pa., which is a five-hour drive from the Abington campus, and a home school team from Jersey Shore in Lycoming County.

"It was great to have representation from various locations outside the Philadelphia region," he said.

Other high school teams included Central Bucks East, Central Bucks West, Central Bucks North, William Tennent, Upper Dublin, Hatsboro-Horsham, Upper and Lower Moreland, Abington, Cheltenham, Council Rock, Peddie School, West Branch, Holy Family Name and Richard Montgomery. High school students from Eastern Center for Arts and Technology and Middle Bucks Institute for Technology who are taking the Penn State engineering course EDSGN 100 for credit also participated.

In addition to a few rookie teams, the VEX exhibit was a new addition to the 2008 contest. A scrimmage match, the VEX exhibit features radio-controlled robots operated by student teams.

Avanzato, who serves as host and announcer, noticed a sense of camaraderie between the VEX challenge participants and the "Robo-Hoops" participants.

"They learned a great deal from each other and were swapping ideas and cheering each other on," he noted.

The VEX scrimmage brought 13 new teams to the competition this year and 200 people attended overall.

Avanzato hopes to see continued growth and interest in both the new VEX competition and Robo-Hoops. He emphasizes the learning experience over the competition.

"Because robotics is highly interdisciplinary and hands-on, it is an effective tool to introduce middle and high school students to college programs and careers in science and technology," he said.

Although it is widely popular among regional high schools, the contest is open to students of all ages and backgrounds from K-12 through college to professional engineers. Participants can be sponsored by a school or organization or can opt to compete on their own.

"Registration has always been free and we provide as much support and mentorship as possible to teams who wish to participate," Avanzato said.

For more information on "Robo-Hoops" and to view photos from past competitions, visit, or contact Bob Avanzato,


(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009