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FIRST Robotics Competition Gives Virginia Teams “Hoop Dreams”

If you think playing basketball is tough, imagine the challenge of designing and building a robot that can maneuver around a court and shoot baskets while probably bumping into other robots that also are scooting around and shooting hoops.  To throw in an extra twist, how about giving your robot the ability to balance on a teetering platform, too?

The game is called “Rebound Rumble” and it’s the challenge facing teams taking part in this year’s FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), the “varsity sport for the mind.”  To see a video of the game, click here.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is an international organization with the ambitious mission of transforming modern culture by celebrating science and technology and encouraging more students to be interested in pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education.

FRC is the organization’s signature robotics competition, involving more than 2,300 teams from the U.S. and a dozen other countries.  More than 58,000 high school students participate in FRC teams.

There are 68 FRC teams in Virginia, and most sent representatives to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond on Saturday, January 7 to learn this year’s challenge and to pick up kits with robot components.

FRC teams worldwide received identical robot kits…but NO instructions.  Working with volunteer mentors, students have just six weeks to design, program and build a robot to compete in Rebound Rumble.  The game changes every year and 2012 marks the 21st season for the FIRST Robotics Competition.

“This looks like the most challenging game we’ve dealt with yet,” said Katie Shedden, a senior at Goochland High School and a co-captain of the school’s FRC team.  “Rebound Rumble is an interesting spin on games from other years, with a few new added challenges,” she added.

Goochland’s FRC team, the “Junkyard Dogs,” is entering its 7th season in the FIRST Robotics Competition and the team has several new mentors, including career utilities engineer Adeeb Hamzey, who said, “After the kickoff meeting, I came out very energized, and I look forward to the competition this year.”

Building and driving a robot, of course, is part of the fun of participating in FIRST.  But the real goal of the program is to teach important life skills, including project management, communications and teamwork.

The lessons of FIRST are not lost on Drew Spivey, a junior at Goochland High and a member of the Junkyard Dogs.  “The experience I have gained has developed my critical thinking skills, cooperation with other people in other teams, engineering skills, and since I started, I have wanted to do something in the engineering field.”

The 2012 FRC Virginia Regional will be held at VCU’s Stuart Siegel Center March 16-17.  The FRC Championship will be in St. Louis, Missouri April 25-28.

To learn more about FIRST robotics in Virginia, please visit virginiafirst.org.

Article by: Jim Babb, for VirginiaFIRST Robotics