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University of Waterloo’s FIRST robotics contest draws high school robot enthusiasts


March 23, 2010
By Mary Del


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High school students from across the country will gather at the University of Waterloo this weekend for the qualification round of the FIRST robotics contest.

 FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) challenges teams of high school students and their mentors to build robots in order to qualify for the world finals to be held next month in the United States. Under the rules of FIRST, robots are built in six weeks from a common kit of parts and weigh up to 120 pounds, excluding battery and bumpers.

 

The Waterloo regional contest, open to the public, will be held Thursday through Saturday (March 25-27) in the physical activities complex on the University of Waterloo campus. Admission is free. Thursday is a day of practice rounds.

"Through FIRST, kids realize that building a robot can be fun and cool," said Rob Gorbet, a University of Waterloo professor of electrical and computer engineering and planning committee chair for FIRST Robotics Waterloo Regional. "It gives them very real role models, from outside the worlds of professional sports and entertainment. It’s about opening their eyes to careers in math, engineering, science and technology – and it works."

The Waterloo regional will also include a mini-competition at the elementary-school level – called FIRST Lego League – aimed at children in grades 4-8. Several area elementary schools will demonstrate their robots.

The high-tech sports competition involves brainstorming, teamwork and mentoring. Referees oversee the contest and judges give awards for design, technology, sportsmanship and commitment.

This year’s game is played with regular soccer balls. In teams of three, each robot will try to herd and score the balls into their goals, guided by on-board cameras. At the end of the two-minute match, robots will get bonus points for hanging off the ground from a bar or another robot.

Games are fast-paced and competitive, offering fun for the entire family. Besides learning about science, math, engineering and technology, students must work with each other in a spirit of ‘co-opetition.’

Twenty-six teams involving about 400 students will participate in the Waterloo event – 24 from Ontario, one from Quebec and one from Indiana. Waterloo is one of two Canadian venues hosting a regional FIRST competition in 2010. The other Canadian regional takes place April 1-3 at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga.

The annual contest involves more than 45,225 students in Grades 9 to 12 on 1,809 teams in regional competitions in 12 countries, including Canada, the U.S., Israel, Germany, Australia and Brazil. The world finals will be held April 15 to 17 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Major sponsors for the Waterloo regional competition include Research In Motion, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada, Rockwell Automation, TD Bank Financial Group and the University of Waterloo.

To learn more about FIRST Robotics, go to www.firstrobotics.uwaterloo.ca. The site includes information on registering a team and volunteering, as well as photos and video from past competitions.