The FIRST Robotics Regional Competition is an annual competition that takes place in the United States. Its meant to encourage high school students from around the world to showcase their innovative talent for robotic builds. The students and their engineering mentors are given a period of time to brainstorm their ideas before their kits are delivered from FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).
There is a theme every year that the enthusiastic robotic builders have to follow. The robots they design must complete a range of tasks in accordance with the theme. The theme for 2015 is Recycle Rush. The tasks include stacking containers and recycling cans in certain scoring areas, and then filling them with foam litter. This is meant to be an in depth examination into what sort of ideas can be used to help with the recycling that is being encouraged worldwide, and what sort of role robots can play in aiding the targets that many governments are now placing on recycling.
The competition is run by FIRST, who are a non profit which was founded by the inventor off the Segway, Dean Kamen. Its designed to create and drive the student interest in technology, science, engineering and mathematics. Competition and collaboration are intrinsic to the ethos behind the competition. The students, from the get go, are presented with problem solving ,and require the help of their mentors, and teachers, and each other as they engineer and build with sophisticated hardware and software kits. Their goal is to win the competition where the winning team receives $20 million in college scholarships.
Once each of the teams receive their kit, they have 6 weeks to figure out their strategy, and then design and build a wireless robot that they can control. It can weigh up to 120 pounds. Once the robots are complete they have to bring them to the regional competition. They are tagged and bagged and opened at the competition. The students then have 8 hours to make any updates or fixes to their robots. Each of the starter kits that the schools receive are the same, but the students are allowed to add and make their own hacks, as long as they meet the guidelines of FIRST.
The competition is large, and widely recognised. There are more than 75,000 high school students that make up the more than 3,000 teams. They play out in 60 regional events, and have well known technology companies such as Nvidia, Microsoft, and Coca Cola as sponsors. The schools are from around the world including some unique corners of the globe that you might not expect such as Israel, and Hawaii. There are even teams from the well known corners of silicon valley. The teams are varied in their names and makeups with teams called things such as Warrior Borgs, and the Space Cookies, who are an all girl team sponsored by the Girl Scouts organisation. Inside the competition there are awards given for leadership, and safety practises too.
The Pit Lane
The pits that the teams have to work in are affectionately branded with logos, and team designs. The students will sometimes even go as far as to dye their hair colors to match their tshirt designs too. They have team mascots that they dangle for luck, play a big part also. The team from China hang their red lanterns, and the Hawaiian team have palm fronds and tropical flower wreaths. Each team also has commemorative pins that they wear with their logo on them. Each of the teams also takes great pride in learning from each other, and they trade their pins so that they have a huge collection of pins from their rivals all over each others tshirt.
This is meant as an excellent way to bring students from around the world together to build and showcase their talents in robotics and programming. Each of the mentors pass their skills down amongst the team members, and it becomes a very close knit community of robot builders at each of the participating schools. Seeing what sort of results and ideas the students use to complete the tasks leaves us in hope that the next generation of engineers will be even better than the last.