Students from regional high schools came to UT by the hundreds Jan. 4 for the start of this year’s FIRST Robotics competition: Infinite Recharge.
The annual gathering, held the first Saturday of every year, is the first chance that teams have to see their equipment and better understand that year’s mission.
In FIRST competitions, teams have to design, program, and build robots capable of performing one of three tasks, then form alliances of three teams to ensure that all three tasks are covered.
“You want to make it challenging and include science and technology, but you also want to create a sense of excitement, of competition” said L.J. Robinson, regional director for FIRST Robotics for Tennessee and Kentucky. “Our students are fond of saying that it’s the ‘hardest fun you will ever have.’”
For Infinite Recharge, the general goal is to protect your space outpost from an asteroid shower, utilizing droids, power cells, and a shield generator to complete the mission, before reuniting at the base to make the shield operational.
Each team’s droid will attempt to shoot power cells—foam balls—into receptacles, first autonomously and then under team control.
The final step will involve using the droids to manipulate color panels to the right color or the correct number of rotations.
If that sounds vaguely familiar of a certain series of sci-fi movies, it’s with good reason; not only is Star Wars helping sponsor the competition, but is sharing sound effects from the franchise, including R2-D2, BB-8, and various fighters and transports.
It’s all about striking the balance between fun and science, something that FIRST Robotics values.
“It’s great to see how excited the students are every year when their teams get the equipment,” said Lecturer and Research Assistant Professor Rachel McCord of UT’s Tickle College of Engineering, which helps sponsor the event. “They build and use skills both in sciences and in teamwork, helping them prepare for STEM-related courses in college.”
Another benefit of participating on a FIRST Robotics team is that members have access to over $80 million in college scholarships.
Winners of the Smoky Mountains Regional, which typically draws teams from around the country and will be held March 25–28 at Thompson-Boling Arena, will advance to the national finals in Houston or Detroit in April.
In an effort to again highlight the importance of the event, a group of UT FIRST Alumni students, who took part in the competition as high schoolers, challenged themselves to build a robot in just three days, taking turns sleeping and working around the clock to meet that goal.