Robotics competition starts
(March 10, 2006) — HENRIETTA — Pocket protectors? Nope. Scotch-taped glasses? Fuhgetaboutit.
A hunt for nerdiness at the Finger Lakes Region FIRST Robotics Competition is an uphill slog, a needle-in-the-haystack search.
It should be easy. This is engineering, right? But there is nothing nerdy about science when it involves robots shooting stuff, blaring rock music, loud cheering sections in the bleachers and student mascots dressed in elaborate costumes.
The competition starts today. Through Saturday, Rochester Institute of Technology’s Gordon Field House will be crowded with 30 teams of high school robot builders from New York state and beyond.
“Here, it’s almost like a football game,” said Donnell Brown, a senior at Rochester’s John Marshall High School. Thursday saw the teams going through practice rounds and putting their creations through last-minute paces.
The robots are essentially mobile batting cage pitching machines, rifling round Nerf balls like mechanical Nolan Ryans on wheels.
For the competition, the robots alternately fire the balls into targets at either end of the 54-foot field or play defense, trying to block opposing robots from doing the same.
Teams had six weeks to design and build their 'bots. For the Marshall team, that meant long hours twice a week after school and on Saturdays, said Brown, 18. “You can build the robot, but getting it under the weight limit, that’s the tough part,” he said.
This second Finger Lakes FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) at RIT is among nearly three dozen such robotics competitions going on across the United States, Canada and in Israel this month. Six teams from the Finger Lakes regional will go to the championships in Atlanta in late April.
FIRST was founded by renowned inventor Dean Kamen, perhaps best known as creator of the Segway two-wheeled scooter.
Brittany Alphonse, 14, and a member of Duct Tape Bandits, a team from Shrewsbury, Mass., joined for the challenge. “Every year it’s a completely different task. And everybody’s really into it.”
The teams cover a lot more ground than just the tech side of things, as members often have to do work from fundraising to writing business plans.
“Anyone can join,” said Philip Wang, 17, captain of Blizzard, a team from Toronto, " … and FIRST robotics will have something you’ll take into university, not just engineering."