New York City gears up for annual robotics challenge

Image credited to FIRST

Image credited to FIRST

This April, around 66 high school teams from across the globe will gather at the Javits Centre in New York City to pit their 5 feet-120 pound robots against each other.

US FIRST is organizing a regional event for its annual international robotics contest for high school students from April 4-6 in the city. Every year, a design challenge is announced on the first Saturday of January. Some of the best engineering minds around the world—high school students, their teachers or a professional engineer to mentor them— have to build a bot that meets the specifications in six weeks. The event will also have expos for children from kindergarten and primary school children, which will see participation from around 200 teams.

“The challenges are always very complex,” said Samuel Alexander, who works for FIRST. “Last year, we had to design a robot that could shoot frisbees and there were three different tiers of goals.”

Alexander was a high school student in 2006 when he first got involved with the organization. Today, he an AmeriCorps VISTA—a national service that engages thousands of people at work in non-profits, schools and other public agencies— at US FIRST.

Majority of the teams participating in this regional event are from New York and Westchester, but there are also five international teams, said Alexnader, adding that the championship at the end of April will see over 400 teams.

“A lot of teams build two bots, because after those six week you can’t touch the bot anymore. The teams put them in big plastic bags and they have to tie it off and sign a sheet that says ‘We won’t touch this robot anymore,” he said. The teams make changes to the second bot, constantly improvising on the design. When they get to the event, they quickly apply these changes to the competition bot.

Alexander explained this year’s challenge, Aerial Assist. Three bots and one ball— the bots will pass the ball, play defense and score. Teams have a two-foot diameter exercise ball and a goal that’s 8 foot high. The field that’s 54 feet long and 25 feet high. Scoring get more complex with the way the bots pass the ball and how quickly they score.

“It’s like a sport. It’s like football or basket ball or soccer, but there are just so many rules that you really need an engineering mind to figure out how to come up with strategies and efficient ways to get the job done,” he said.

Team sizes range from 10 to 100, but every teams has some number of professional mentors. Most teams fundraise and get their own sponsors, from mobile businesses to corporate entities, Alexander said, but FIRST also works with teams to help them find sponsors. Several companies, like Goldman Sachs, Bloomberg and Morgan Stanley, sponsor the teams.


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