Friday, March 07, 2014

High School Students Compete in Robotics Competition

          by Sarah Ansari-Manea

Robots at the ready! Photo c/o FRC.
This month, hundreds of high school students are coming together to participate in the annual FIRST Robotics Waterloo Regional Competition, which will be held from March 21st - 23rd at the University of Waterloo.

Over 30 competition teams will design and build robots to compete for their schools and for a chance at a berth at the FRC World Championship, which will be held from April 23rd - 26th in St. Louis, MO.

As outlined on the FRC website, every January some 2,500 teams across the world join together to watch the unveiling of the new season’s robotic challenge, which will be attempted by high school teams across the world and culminate in the FRC World Championship.

Back when I participated with my high school team, “the Pace Invaders,” the competitions allowed us to create and construct robots that do anything from climb, throw balls, to hang inflatable shapes in particular orders and locations.

Normally broadcast on NASA TV, this year’s challenge, called "Aerial Assist," merges some old challenges with many new. Two teams, of three robots each, will be competing on a 25’ x 54’ foot field. On either side there are a set of goals, high and low, with a point system depending on the height of the goal, as well as the number of passes between robots to score the goal.

As usual, there is a 10 second autonomous period prior to the match, where robots are pre-programmed to score on their own. Bonus points are given throughout the match for passing and scoring goals across a truss in the center of the field. In general, this year’s challenge is meant to push teamwork between the robots and drivers, where higher bonus points are scored when more than one team has interacted with the ball prior to scoring.

The events are organized through the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), which was founded in New Hampshire in a high school gym and now spans across 13 countries worldwide.

The playing field. Graphic c/o FRC.
Established in 2001, FIRST Robotics Canada is a registered charity that strives to inspire students to be open and excited about science, technology, and engineering. With many high end sponsors, and $3 million from the government of Ontario in 2004 to spread across the province, they now have close to 10,000 participating students, from over 100 teams across the country.

According to Dean Kamen, the founder of FIRST, the object of the organization is "to transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders."

FIRST also has an elementary Lego League, allowing the engagement of younger students in a safe and effective way. Much like the Robotic Competition, the Lego League has thousands of students and mentors across the nation, engaging more and more youth every year.

Sarah Ansari-Manea.
Participating in the FIRST Robotics Competitions several years ago taught me countless, unforgettable lessons, from teamwork to the advanced technology of modern day robotics. I can thank my love of technology, in part, to some of these wonderfully ran science outreach organizations, FIRST being high up on the list.

Sarah Ansari-Manea is an aspiring astrophysicist, currently completing a specialist in physics and astronomy at the University of Toronto.

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