FIRST Robotics inspires interest in STEM

HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS VISIT Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for a fourth year of action-filled competition at the Tech Valley Regional.

Thursday, March 16 to Saturday March 18, 36 teams of high school students, guided by mentors, teachers, and parents, competed in the FIRST STEAMWORKS New York Tech Valley Regional competition, held for the fourth year at the East Campus Athletic Village.

The three-day event allowed students to test and improve the robots they built during the six week “build season” while cooperating and competing in a fast paced sport-like challenge. Dubbed the “sport for the mind,” FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) gives students the opportunity to have fun while applying STEM concepts to a new challenge each year.

The 2017 challenge was announced in January and students had exactly six weeks to design, build, and test a robot that could compete in the game. Named STEAMWORKS, the game involved picking up fuel (plastic balls), from either the floor or a feeder station, and shooting them into boilers (goals) for points, as well as picking up gears and dropping them off at the human player station where they were then used to build gear trains to engage rotors. The final way to earn points was to have the robot climb the center tower using a single rope.  Points were awarded for each of these challenges with various bonus points awarded for completing sets of a specific challenge.

Of the 36 teams that competed, seven will be eligible to compete in the championships. The first three eligible are of course the tournament winnersthe winning alliance was made up of team 333, The Megalodons, from New York, NY; team 2791, Shaker Robotics, from Latham, NY; and team 5952, RoBuck, from Montreal, Canada. They were the fourth seated alliance with the alliance captain team 333 ranked sixth, 2791 ranked sixteenth, and 5952 ranked twenty-seventh. The alliance played extremely well with extraordinary robots capable of completing the challenges quickly.

The three teams from the winning alliance also received special awards after the competition, given by judges during interviews. The Megaladons won the Innovation in Control award sponsored by Rockwell Automation, Shaker Robotics took home the Industrial Design Award sponsored by General Motors, and RoBuck received the Creativity Award sponsored by Xerox.

Some special awards also qualified teams to compete in the championships. These awards were “Rookie All-star,” won by team 6459, AG Robotik, from Istanbul, Turkey; “Engineering Inspiration” won by team 5123, Mechadogs, from Yonkers, NY; and the most prestigious of the awards, “Chairman’s Award,” received by team 3044, OXBE4, from Ballston Spa, NY. The tournament also generated a wild card which qualified team 4508, Steel Stallions, from Schuylerville NY, the finalist alliance captain, for the championships.

Many of these teams will go on to compete in a second regional which may qualify them for the championship, regardless, the students all went home with new knowledge, experiences, skills, and friends from around the world. FIRST hopes to continue to inspire students to pursue careers in the STEM field or at least, show them just how much fun robotics can be.

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All photos: Crystal Vejar/The Polytechnic