Founded in 1992, the FIRST Robotics Competition now spans multiple continents and includes over 45,000 students from over 2,000 high schools. Wow!
OK that’s impressive, but “What is FIRST?” you might ask. The acronym is “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” and the program challenges high school students to build a functioning robot during a six-week intensive, with the robot conforming to some specific build requirements (weight, function, etc.). Each year the theme of the challenge changes, and the theme this year was “Ultimate Ascent” with robots being required to shoot frisbees and climb pyramids (see image above, video below).
The FIRST Championships recently took place from April 24-27, 2013 in St. Louis, MO, inside the Edward Jones Dome, where that city’s NFL team the Rams play football. Adjacent to the dome field is America’s Center, a trade show building that was home to over 300 team “pits” and sponsor booths for the four-day event.
Having recently attended the New York City FIRST competition in early March, I got the itch, and wanted to see more. I wanted to see the best of the best from around the globe. Conveniently, I grew up in St. Louis and know the America’s Center and downtown well, so I made a quick hop to my hometown for the 21st annual championships!
While FIRST is well known at Maker Faires (two FIRST projects – here and here – will be at Maker Faire Bay Area next weekend) and similar events, I highly recommend attending a regional competition, or the championships. The energy level at these things is off the charts! Parents and friends are always in attendance, and everyone is very supportive of each other. Not to mention the camaraderie among competitors. Former FIRST students become mentors, who train current FIRST students. Those students in turn offer advice to younger students. Those students help still-younger students. From loaning materials to giving knowledge and moral support, students help fellow students succeed. And they travel from very far for the opportunity. At the championships I met students from China, Taiwan, Holland, Mexico, Canada, and every region of the United States, as well as educators from Pakistan, Israel, and elsewhere. Even the neighborhood I live in was represented, with two of the seven teams from NYC coming from Long Island City, Queens.
The competition is different every year, and always challenging. Like I say I highly encourage you see a FIRST event in person. It’s a thing of wonder! The slideshow below will give you an idea of the scope of this competition.
More images are available on my Flickr.
The video below shows a full 2-minute 15-second match including pre-programmed battle, and operator-controlled battle, offensive frisbee shooting and defensive action, with some impressive robot climbing at the end!