March 10, 2014
Thursday, March 6, was the first day of the San Diego Regional FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition, an international competition for high school students interested in careers in robotics. Over the course of the weekend, over 1,500 students competed in the event.
Each year, the FIRST Robotics Competition presents high school students with a challenge to meet. This year, students were challenged to develop a small team of robots capable of playing a game that is similar to basketball or hockey. As a team, robots should be able to achieve a selection of tasks:
- Throw large rubber balls through slots a few feet high
- Pass large rubber balls through slots lower to the ground
- Pass the large rubber balls between each other
- Block the other team’s robots from scoring goals
The teams then compete against each other in matches until there is a winning team. Teams can accumulate points both by scoring goals and by coordinating their robots to a maximal degree.
This annual competition is sponsored by many notable national as well as San Diego-based scientific and engineering groups including NASA and Qualcomm. Teens are eligible to get scholarships from these groups to build their robots and attend the event.
The competition also aims to match up teens with industry professionals while they develop their robots. This allows these young people to get some firsthand advice on getting into the industry, which will hopefully encourage many teens with an interest in robotics to actually take the next step and pursue a career in the field. It also gives engineers the opportunity to connect with the next generation of robotics designers and to rediscover what got them into the field in the first place.
These kinds of events are very important for facilitating opportunities for young people to experience the fun in engineering. According to The Global Post, some of the best ways to motivate young people to succeed academically include offering positive reward reinforcement, and encouraging them to use academics as a social venue. When young people are able to see something they have built start to move and to successfully perform at the task it was designed to complete, it can be a very fulfilling experience, so that in this case, the reward of the positive reinforcement is in the satisfaction of achieving a success they can actually hold and see. These are tangible results that help teens see the “why” behind the “what,” which can be a hard thing to demonstrate when encouraging kids to do academically.
And because the competition requires teens to work in teams, it becomes a great opportunity to turn an academic event into a social event. For many young people, the fun of clubs and sports is in the time they get to spend with friends. These clubs have the added bonus of contributing to the teens’ educations and career-building experiences.
The seven winning teams will go on to compete in a world championship in April in St. Louis. Many of the advancing teams came from San Diego and the surrounding area.
Read coverage from U-T San Diego here.