Annual spring competition packs arenas across the country

March 21, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More

It’s that time of the year for packed arenas, where the fans cheer on the players who compete intensely. No, I’m not talking about NCAA basketball. I’m talking about robot soccer, sponsored by First (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).

What is the mission of First?

Our mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.

On Saturday, I attended part of the all-day competition involving 35 high school teams from the Midwest. The competition involved thousands of individual participants and spectators, who filled up much of St. Louis University’s Chaifetz Arena.  I had an extra incentive to attend: my nephew was competing as part of the team from University City.  “U City” made the semi-finals even though they were a rookie team—congratulations Nephew!).

Talking to my nephew and his father prior to seeing any of this with my own eyes, I had a difficult time understanding the rules of the competition (“FRC” = First Robotics Competition).    I did understood that the teams of high school students (ages 14-18) spent considerable time and energy assembling and programming their robots to compete.  These robots parts are quite expensive—around $10,000—but corporate sponsorships (Boeing is a prominent sponsor) and fund-raising enable these robot purchases. I understood that the students themselves did all of the hands-on work, training-up their robots to (hopefully) excel at both the autonomous phase (the robot tries to recognize the targets located over the goals and then tries to move the ball into the goals) and the controlled phase of the game.

Until I witnessed the competition, though, I wasn’t prepared for the advanced technology, the excitement and intensity.   At the arena, I learned that there were two goals at each end of the field, and that the humps that the robots need to navigate looked formidable to my non-robot eyes. I learned that during each part of the competition, three teams form an alliance against three other teams. Prior to the competition, each of the teams had carefully customized its robot so that it was able to navigate the field, to score points and (I didn’t know this either) that it could attempt for 2 bonus points by hoisting itself up a “tower” on the field prior to the buzzer. If you want to know the technical requirements of the competition, check out the detailed Robotics Competition Manual.

Many matches were played Saturday.  I videotaped parts of several of the matches, as well as the sorts of things that occurred between matches, assembling excerpts to give you a flavor for both the competition and the pageantry.  The competition was both fun and energizing to the participants—you could see it in their faces and body language.

The real value of this program, of course, is educational. The biggest congratulations go to all of the students from across the United States who have made a substantial time commitment by participating in this program, learning a great deal real-world information about robotics in the process. As these students become adults, one can only assume that many of them will make good use of this hands-on robotics training.

Robotics has come a long way in the past few decades and there is no reason to doubt major additional progress. Maybe in a few decades, the First competition will have advanced to the point that the participants won’t any longer build soccer-playing robots; instead, they’ll design a new kind of robot that does the work of designing and building those soccer-playing robots. . . .


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Category: Education, Technology

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Email from my nephew:

    The FIRST Robotics Competition, while incredibly fun, involves quite a lot of work. In the six weeks from the announcement of the game to the day we shipped the robot, my team had to learn about and create the frame and the drive, electronics, and pneumatics systems suitable to playing the game well. The members of my team who worked on the mechanics of the robot spent many, many hours designing, building, and testing the system.

    I worked mostly in programming, but the job still involved a large amount of sweat; if we needed to do some troubleshooting on the robot, I would need to determine with the team whether or not the problem was related to programming, and if it was, scour the code for a reason why it didn't work, and fix the problem.

    Much perseverance and determination were necessary to make it through the build season, and even during the three days of the competition. If something on the robot broke during a match, we might only have ten or fifteen minutes until the next one to fix it! We were lucky enough not to have any major problems after the practice rounds.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    It's time for the annual robotics competition. Here's the blog of the University City High School robotics team giving you updates regarding the March 17-19 Regional Competition.

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