Feature

FIRST Robotics Is Back!
01.20.05
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Here come the robots! Robots from across the nation and around the world are being prepared to face off this spring in the FIRST Robotics Competition. Each robot will try to complete assigned tasks better than its opponents. But, even more impressive than the robots themselves are the people behind them.

Image to left: The FIRST Robotics Competition is an exciting, multinational competition that teams professionals and young people to solve an engineering design problem. Credit: FIRST

The FIRST robots aren't built by high-tech corporations, but by high school students. Last year, more than 900 teams, comprising 20,000 students, participated in the competition. NASA is one of several organizations in partnership with FIRST to make the competition possible.

On Jan. 8, 2005, the 14th Annual FIRST Robotics Competition kicked off. Teams from all over the United States and from several other countries will participate in 30 regional tournaments in March. Then, in April, the championship event will be held at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The program benefits students by providing a unique learning opportunity that is practical and hands-on, not to mention fun. In addition, colleges, universities, corporations, businesses and individuals contribute to provide scholarships for winning teams.

Image showing contestants measuring a tetra
Image to right: This year's competition involves a game called "Triple Play" with points being awarded for tetras being lifted and placed on top of the goals. Credit: NASA

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a multinational non-profit organization, founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway Human Transporter. In addition to the Robotics Competition, FIRST also runs the FIRST LEGO League, for children 9-14 years old, and FIRST Place, a science and technology center that includes a hands-on children's science museum. Partnering with FIRST in the competition are many business, education and government institutions, which provide funding, in-kind donations and volunteers. Among those is NASA, which supports the program in many ways. Many NASA engineers serve as mentors of FIRST teams. The agency provides funds for grants to help schools participate in the program. NASA also made it possible for students around the nation to watch the kick-off event live. The agency was also involved in the creation of software used by the robot teams. NASA even has a Robotics Education Project that works to bring the wonder and excitement of robotics into the classroom.

This year's competition involves a game called "Triple Play," which is played on a 27-by-24-foot rectangular field with large goals placed around it. Two alliances, made up of three school teams each, start at either end. The robots are given tetrahedral objects, called "tetras." The tetras, with their four triangular faces, are assembled from PVC pipe. The robots compete in teams to move the tetras to the goals, with the most points awarded for tetras being lifted and placed on top of the goals. If you would like to view an animation of the game, please visit NASA's Robotics Education Project Web site and click on the Triple Place Animation link.

Science fiction writers have long written that robots are the future, but for thousands of high school students around the world, robots are helping them prepare for their futures-- today!

For more information visit:
FIRST Web site
NASA's Robotics Education Project Web site

David Hitt/MSFC