What begins as a box of 422 parts becomes a robot able to travel to a bridge while carrying four balls, cross an overpass and then return within the allotted time — and it’s all done by teams of high school students at this year's FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST Overdrive.
“Teams are given a standard set of parts and the game details at the beginning of January and are given six weeks to construct a competitive robot that can accomplish the game's tasks,” says Marion Murphy, event spokeswoman. According to Murphy, 1,500 students from nine countries took part in this year's competition.
“This year the course is an overpass and (the robots) have to travel counter-clockwise on an oval track and move balls under and over within two and half minutes,” says , executive director of FIRST.
This year's challenge, FIRST Overdrive is played on a track divided into a red side and blue side. In the first 15 sec of play, the two three-team alliances use digital signals to control their robots autonomously. The teams then race their robots around the track while using controls to manipulate the balls.
Companies including Johnson & Johnson, General Motors and Boeing donate the parts for the competition. Teams are allowed to add parts, but any parts added cannot be an energy source such as compressors. The cost of the added parts cannot exceed $400.
Teams compete against each other and then form alliances to compete in the challenge together.
“This is how it is in the real world. You have a budget, so you can’t spend over it; there are guidelines, but you also might seek out help and work as partners,” says Miller.
Founded in 1992 by inventor Dean Kamen as a way to help young people discover the excitement of science and technology, the FIRST competition is held annually with 37 regional competitions. This year's championship will be held in Atlanta's Georgia Dome on April 17.
“Our greatest challenge is the challenge itself and making sure it’s technologically challenging enough for our veteran teams, but not too difficult for the rookie teams,” says Miller, who has been with FIRST since its inception.