FTC Browncoats Robotics Coach Monte Bateman standing in front of nine years of trophies won by the FTC Browncoats Robotics team.

Courtesy Monte Bateman


HUNTSVILLE, AL. (APR. 5, 2023) – A local North Alabama robotics team is heading to the World Robotics FIRST Championship in Houston, Texas this April thanks to a University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) Earth System Science Center (ESSC) lightning researcher passing down his STEM knowledge and valuable life skills to the next generation.

As one of the coaches for the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Browncoats robotics team comprised of 6th to 12th grade students, UAH ESSC Lightning Researcher Dr. Monte Bateman says it’s more than just building a robot, it’s seeing his students apply the lessons learned in robotics to everyday life, like UAH undergraduate senior and FTC Browncoats alumnus Ian Holbrook has throughout his college career.

“We’re proud of our team’s success, but most importantly, we’re proud of what our students become. We believe in gracious professionalism, and helping everyone do their best, and building our kids to be better people,” says Bateman, a principal research scientist at UAH, part of the University of Alabama System.


UAH undergraduate student Ian Holbrook (left) and UAH ESSC Principal Research Scientist iDr. Monte Bateman (right) working together at UAH ESSC lightning research laboratory. Holbrook was a former FTC Browncoats Robotics member from 2016-2020, with Bateman serving as a coach. Courtesy Liz Junod/UAH


At the age of 15, Holbrook joined the FTC Browncoats in 2016 designing and building parts for the robotic competitions by using a 3D printer and computer-aided design software. 


With guidance from Bateman, Holbrook continued to expand his knowledge in computer programming and engineering throughout the next four years as an FTC Browncoat. 


Building his own 3D printer and creating the original computer vision algorithm software for the robotics team, Holbrook created a critical artificial intelligence component needed to compete and earn points during a robotics championship. Through Holbrook’s efforts, he co-captained the FTC Browncoats team to victory at two state championships and qualified for worlds during his high school senior year in 2020. 


“I realized I really enjoyed designing, using my hands, and seeing things physically come together as a Browncoat. It pushed me toward officially majoring in mechanical engineering at UAH,” says Holbrook.


Now finishing up his last semester in mechanical engineering, Holbrook’s career in robotics has now come full circle as Bateman hired Holbrook as a student specialist to help build atmospheric instrumentation through CAD design and 3D printing capabilities. 


“There was no one who has the skills within the lightning group to use a 3D printer. Holbrook walked in the door and contributed immediately to the team with his knowledge,” says Bateman. 


“Ten years from now, the FTC Browncoats alumni may not remember the robot they built, but they’ll remember the skills they were taught that will carry with them throughout their careers,” says Bateman.


In its 10th year of existence and fourth time qualifying for the worlds, Bateman has coached the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Browncoats robotics team comprised of 6th to 12th grade students from across North Alabama.


From his work as a UAH ESSC lightning researcher, Bateman transfers his scientific, computer programming, and working professionalism to help students compete in robotic competitions.  Bateman’s notable work at UAH ESSC stems from building field mills placed on aircraft and drones that detect lightning within hurricanes and snowstorms. Bateman was also an integral team member in developing NASA’s Geostationary Lightning Mapper, a near-infrared instrument situated on GOES-16 satellite that detects lightning from space. 


Registered with the FIRST Robotics organization based out of Manchester, New Hampshire, Bateman’s skillset helps the FTC Browncoats compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge competition level. Teams at this level work together to design a robot that can perform automation and computer vision using Java-based computer programming to complete various tasks. 


This robot was built and designed by the FTC Browncoats will compete at the 2023 Robotics World Championship. Everything in purple is 3D printed. 

Courtesy Monte Bateman


The team competes in two different sections: game play and judging. 


Game play involves teams working in an alliance format on a 12 by 12 field, winning points by having a robot complete various tasks through strategy and tactics. Each game play competition lasts for two and a half minutes. Winners of each match advance to the finals in a bracket style tournament. 


During the judging section, a five-minute presentation is given in front of a panel that highlights the software, design, marketing, budgeting, sustainability, and outreach events that the team has accomplished throughout the competition year.


“In essence, it’s an all-encompassing project. The team puts together documentation as large as a phone book that’s turned into the judging panel at each competition. The documentation is filled with software coding, CAD drawings, photos, and Gantt charts that map out the project scope and timeline,” says Bateman.


With various components of the FIRST Tech Challenge, Bateman says, “You don’t have to come in as a mathematics or science expert. The team also needs a wide range of skills such as artists, writers, and photographers to compete in the competitions.” 


The FTC Browncoats are currently preparing for the FIRST World Championship taking place between April 19th-21st in Houston, Texas, where over 600 teams from across the world are expected to compete.