This weekend the NYC regional FIRST robotics competition pits 64 high schools against each other to see whose robot plays soccer better.
The pre-game started today. High school students from the NYC area, plus one team from Great Britain and one from Brazil, finally unpacked the robots they built over six weeks in January and February. After weeks of anticipation they started tinkering again and dove into practice rounds for this weekend’s competition. The Javits Center in Manhattan was abuzz with teams making last minute adjustments and fixes, trading team buttons, parading mascots around, and most importantly, testing their bots on the field of battle.
That battlefield looked more like a soccer field for the game called “Breakaway,” where robots are supposed to roll or kick balls into a goal while climbing over or under obstacles in the field [see our January commentary for more on FIRST and this year’s challenge].
Vinod Lala, science teacher and mentor for the Mary Louis Academy’s rookie robot team, said it’s already apparent that the game will be tough – about 60 percent of the practice rounds were scoreless, 0-0, he said. And while robots get extra points for hanging off of posts placed in the center of the field, most robots aren’t going for it.
With some exceptions, of course. The Iron Maidens, a veteran all-girls team from the Bronx High School of Science, neatly steered their robot to a central post, where it reached a long arm up, latched on, and lifted itself off the ground.
The FIRST competition challenges students to make engineering design decisions from the get-go, many of which became apparent on the playing field: some robots will squeeze under obstacles, while others are built to roll over them. Some teams were even planning to add additional parts to their robots at the last minute, like a "kicker" to try to score goals.
The competition starts tomorrow and goes through the weekend, with seeding rounds Saturday and Sunday mornings, then qualifying and final rounds in the afternoon. Top scoring teams will travel to the global championships at the Georgia Dome, in Atlanta, in April.
FIRST Lego and Tech challenges, for younger students, will also take place at Javits this weekend. The events are free and open to the public.