Hundreds of students from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia high schools came to UT on Saturday for the annual kick off of the FIRST Robotics competition, with this year’s theme of Destination: Deep Space.
In FIRST competitions, high school student robotic 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.
For Deep Space, the concept is that interstellar travelers have to depart a planet before a sandstorm sweeps through the area.
Each alliance has the task of placing panels on their rocket and on a cargo ship, load cargo onto the ship, and then return safely to their habitat before time elapses.
Further complicating things, the first fifteen seconds of each match will take place under conditions simulating the end of a previous sandstorm, so teams will have to either build in code to make their robots autonomous or include some form of onboard camera that will allow them to control the robot remotely.
If it sounds difficult, that’s the point.
“The idea behind making it challenging is to combine the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology,” said L.J. Robinson, regional director for FIRST Robotics for Tennessee and Kentucky. “We think of the competition as a unique sport where every kid who plays can ‘turn pro,’ meaning attend college. Students often say it’s the ‘hardest fun you will ever have.’”
Winners of the Smoky Mountains Regional, which will be held March 27–30 at Thompson-Boling Arena, will advance to the national finals in Houston or Detroit in April.
Another benefit of participating on a FIRST Robotics team is that members have access to over $80 million in college scholarships.
Highlighting the importance of the event in building, learning, and ability in science and technology, 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 in Perkins Hall to get the job done.