Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Watching Some Robot Games

I saw some robots playing games last weekend.
The competition area.
The occasion was the FIRST Robotics Competition, just a few miles down the road in Kentwood. FIRST is a youth organization encouraging interest in science and technology through participation in various competitions. It ranges from grade-school events building small LEGO-based creations through high-school events working with fully mobile, semi-autonomous robots.

I'd heard about programs like this in passing before, but this was the first one that I visited in person. I learned about it from a fellow Rose-Hulman alumnus who is an adviser in the program. At his suggestion, I dropped by for an hour or so, just to get a feel for the event.
A robot and supporting gear, on its way home to its booth after a match.
The competition was held in a high school gymnasium, and it was packed. Most of the teams had brought cheering sections of parents and students, as well as all the paraphernalia that goes along with a robotics competition. The competition area took up most of the basketball court area, with lines of pit booths at either end where the teams could store their gear and work on their machines. It was loud with all those people, and during a match the cheering was just as enthusiastic as you hear at any basketball game.
One of the pit booth areas.
There are some fairly complicated rules about scoring and advancement, but the actual matches weren't too hard to follow. Two groups of robots roll back and forth across a match area, gathering up balls to throw through the opponent's goal. The whole thing had a medieval theme, so obstacles were supposed to represent moats and the balls were boulders being thrown at a castle. The robots get in each other's way, of course, but for the most part they do what they've been designed for. It was pretty interesting to watch the different ways that the robots were implemented. They all cleared obstacles, picked up balls, and threw them at the opponent's castle, but not all in the same way.

The robots themselves are pretty neat for a technology nerd like myself, but the part of the event that stood out most was just how many youngsters were there having a good time at a science and technology event. The support structure was impressive as well, with financial sponsors and adult advisers that worked with every team. FIRST is doing some great work. I hope they can continue to provide fun competition and learning opportunities for a good long time.

No comments:

Post a Comment