First's Robotics Competition Highlights Aerial Assistance

February 14, 2014

The nonprofit organization First (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) has issued its latest robotics challenge for high school students all over the globe.

The contests, which started in 1992, are meant to spark interest in science and technology in grades 9-12. Recent attendance numbers (from 2,075 teams in 2011 to 2,850 in 2014) suggest First has done so quite successfully.

Every year, students form alliances and are tasked with designing three different robots for a specific game (which changes each year). Students are given a base set of rules they must follow in designing their robots, such as weight and height standards. They are also given a standard set of parts they may use and a limited budget for buying or creating additional parts, which also must conform to the rules.

First showcased past winners and the parameters for this year's game at SolidWorks World 2014.

This year's game, Aerial Assist, resembles a modified version of basketball combined with volleyball. Two teams will compete to get an exercise ball two feet in diameter through goals on the floor and walls of the court. In the first half of the game, the robots will play without any human assistance. During the second half, students will be able to take control of the robots.

To help them mold their robot designs, the alliances are also given access to virtual kits from technology and software companies. These kits can be downloaded directly from the supplier or custom ordered if a specific part must be manufactured. A host of companies such as BaneBots, Bimba, Inventables, and MaxBotix offer a limited set of parts (upon request) to each alliance; these parts may or may not give the students an advantage, depending how they are used. Software also plays a big part.

For the design aspect, students have access to offerings from a host of big-name providers, such as Autodesk (Autodesk Design Academy 2014), PTC (free product development software), and SolidWorks (SolidWorks 3D CAD and the recently released SolidWorks Electrical). Cubify is providing materials such as the Invent, Sculpt, and Design platforms, which can be manufactured in any number of Cubify printers.

Students are given six weeks to design and construct their robot players before engaging in the competition, which will begin Feb. 27 and will culminate with the championship round in April.

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