Like the WWF, but for smart people

Less than 72 hours from now, students from over 1,800 high school teams will be gathered around the country to find out what they’ll be doing for the next 6 weeks. At 1000 (US Eastern time) on Saturday 9 January, Dean Kamen will kick off the 2010 competition season for the FIRST Robotics Competition by announcing this season’s game and publishing the game’s rules.

The teams will then have just over 6 weeks to design, build, test, and ship a robot that they think can win the game. They must analyze the game and come up with a strategy for how to play, then put together a preliminary design they think can execute that strategy. They must pay special attention to the rules and specs they are given. They will break down into smaller teams responsible for specific areas, such as structural, mechanical/pneumatic, drive train, sensors, software control systems. They will build, test, redesign, build, and test. And these are some serious robots, as tall as 5 feet and weighing up to 120 pounds (depending on the specific game rules).

Beginning in March, there will be regional competitions all around the country. (Around the world, actually). The winners of these regional events will then have the opportunity to travel to Atlanta to compete in the International Championships in an event former President George H. W. Bush described as “like the WWF, but for smart people.”

Did I mention these are high school students?

I could go on for pages about what these students will accomplish in six short weeks, and probably will over the course of this upcoming season. I am proud to be a mentor for FRC Team #2893, the Parkway North High School Robohobos, as we go into our second season with the FIRST Robotics Competition. The kids – I mean students (they hate being called kids) – are already preparing for the season, anxiously awaiting the game announcement this weekend. So am I.

If you want to find out more about this years game, check out one of the local kick off events or watch from the comfort of your own home on NASA TV. If you think you have something you can contribute, please seek out a local team and become a mentor. I promise you will get as much from it as the students do.

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