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Flying Discs and Pyramids: FIRST Robotics Competition 2013

Flying saucers and pyramids…it sounds like the stuff of a sci-fi movie, but these items will take center stage in the 2013 FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). FIRST Robotics Competition is the signature program for FIRST, (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). More than 300 high school students from across Virginia gathered January 5th at Virginia Commonwealth University to learn about the challenge they face in this year’s contest. The students represented three dozen teams from across the state and many will be back at VCU March 15-16 to compete in the FRC Virginia Regional.

In the meantime, teams have just six weeks to design and build remote controlled robots that can toss Frisbee-type discs through precision goals. And for extra points, the student-designed robots will be challenged to climb ten-foot tall jungle-gym-style pyramids.

“I think this is going to be much more challenging than last year,” said Jennifer Mak, a member of Mills Godwin High School’s veteran “Team Talon” in Henrico County. Teammate Jake Davenport added, “I think the hardest part is going to be controlling the arc of the Frisbee.”

This year’s game, called Ultimate AscentSM, awards extra points for robots that can climb a pyramid made of metal poles. James Westmoreland, mentor of the rookie FIRST Robotics Team from Richmond’s Huguenot High School, gazed apprehensively at the pyramid. “The idea of having your robot that you’ve spent six weeks building climbing up a tower, and the things that could possibly go wrong at the end of that, it could be tragic,” said Westmoreland.

Shayla Dickerson, a member of Huguenot’s “Millennium Falcon” robotics team, was more philosophical. “The challenge at hand looks pretty intimidating, said Dickerson. “To climb up there without falling off looks pretty challenging, because if it breaks, we’re going to have issues.”

Facing challenges and solving problems is an essential part of FIRST, a program that created high energy robotic contests to encourage young people to take an active interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education and careers.

Scott McKay, president of the VirginiaFIRST Foundation Board, reminded students gathered at the kickoff that their teams need members with a broad range of abilities, including technical talents and “people skills” like community relations and fund-raising. “It’s an incredibly broad activity you’re involved in, and the intensity of doing it all in a six week period is something you’ll remember for years to come,” said McKay.

Virginia Secretary of Commerce & Trade Jim Cheng, whose presence at the FRC Kickoff underscores the program’s importance, said FIRST is contributing to Virginia’s prosperity. Said Cheng, “You will be the managers, technicians, engineers and scientists who will build our future.”

Students participating in FIRST also are helping to build their own futures. FIRST team members qualify for more than $16 million in college scholarships.

FIRST in Virginia (all programs, 2012-13 Season)
8,600+ students
939 teams
4,000+ Mentors/adult team supporters and event volunteers

Learn more about FIRST programs for middle and high-school students at virginiafirst.org

Learn more about FIRST programs for elementary school students at vadcfll.org

Story by Jim Babb/VirginiaFIRST and Photos by Bill Sigafoos

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