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the stadium arenas
FIRST arena

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.

View All

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!

Nick Normal

I’m an artist & maker. A lifelong biblioholic, and advocate for all-things geekathon. Home is Long Island City, Queens, which I consider the greatest place on Earth. 5-year former Resident of Flux Factory, co-organizer for World Maker Faire (NYC), and blogger all over the net. Howdy!



  1. Brady says:

    First Comment! Brady from Team 122 here! FRC is an amazing program. I’m glad to see how well it’s expanded.

  2. polytechnick says:

    It looks like in the pre-programmed battle mode the humans are the weakest link! (Aren’t they always?!) – the guys seem to have trouble feeding Frisbees into the robots at the rate the robots can use them! I think we should really just sit back and let the robots take over, they are going to be better at it (whatever it is) anyway! :)

    Seriously though, the atmosphere of the event is exciting and very motivating, FIRST has been an incredible idea. Hope we can have more of these around the country.

  3. Priyam says:

    Team 840, Aragon Robotics Team was at World Championships this year and will also be at the Bay Area Maker Faire next weekend! Please stop by and visit us, we’d love to tell you about our experience! Team 3501 also has their own booth and the Western Regional Robotics Forum booth will be featuring FIRST teams all weekend so be sure to check them out as well!

  4. James says:

    This year was my first year mentoring (1155 SciBorgs and 2265 Fe Maidens ), and it will not be my last. This is a fantastic program, and I wish I had done it when I was in School.

  5. Mark says:

    FIRST FRC is a wonderful program. I love going to the competitions and listening to how enthused the kids get when they are telling people about their bot.
    I would like to suggest that the word “battle” is misplaced when describing the action. It goes against the FIRST concept of Gracious Professionalism and intentional destructive activity is penalized. The FRC manual uses “Autonomous (AUTO) Period” and “Teleoperated Period (TELEOP)”.