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A sport for the mind: FIRST robotics competition

May 2011

They’re competitive. They spend long days practicing and preparing. They have to think fast and change their tactics as the game changes. They have avid fans. They even have team mascots.

Their sport? Robotics.

Created in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen, FIRST, an acronym for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is a worldwide program that seeks to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders.

Start with a “kit of parts”

Teams of high school students design and build a robot in a six-week timeframe using a standard "kit of parts." Each team produces a unique design following a common set of rules, with the objective of scoring the most points in each year's competition. They compete with their robots in competitions held across the US, as well as Israel and Canada. The teams are supported by business sponsorships, fundraisers and donations.

The kit of parts includes the control system and parts to build a basic robot, as well as parts donated by participating sponsors. “Parts” in addition to the control system are motors, structural components, speed controllers, pneumatic actuators, wheels, and gearboxes, as well as programming and design software. Teams are allowed to purchase additional off-the-shelf items up to a specific spending limit.

It’s not unusual to have 500 parts in a robot.
The 2011 Kit of Parts - Checklist (.pdf) »
For its part, Fluke donates 600 Fluke 115 Field Service Technician Multimeters to the student teams.

It’s LogoMotion this year

Now in its 20th year, the 2011 competition is called LogoMotion and involves teams competing to hang inflated tubes on pegs up to 8 feet (2.4 meters) high within a match lasting two minutes and 15 seconds.

Each match begins with a 15-second autonomous period, when robots operate independently of their drivers. For the rest of the match, the student drivers control the robots from their computer stations at either end of a 27-foot-by-54-foot (8.2-meter-by-16.5-meter) field. Each match ends with the teams attempting to launch a second mini-robot up a 10-foot (3- meter) high pole in a race to the top for bonus points.

The games in Seattle

At Seattle’s Qwest Field Event Center on March 18, members of each team were easy to see with gear like skunk-pattern hats, and cloaks, and even tails; bright red t-shirts and bright-red Mohawks; and blue t-shirts and face paint. Good thing for their supporters (many of whom sported similar outfits) because the scene was fast-moving and crowded. The huge space held two large courts as well as the pits - rows of work places for the 100 teams, energized by emergency repairs and final tune-ups before each contest. Thousands jammed the stands and visited the pits.

Each court was home to a regional competition: the Seattle Olympic Regional and the Seattle Cascade Regional. The regional winners went on to the finals in St. Louis, Missouri, but the rewards didn’t end there. Scholarships, grants, and - of course - hard work, innovation, and achievement. Like other sports.

Learn more
Watch the Seattle matches »
FIRST Robotics »
About the FIRST Championship »