National robotics competition comes to Tucson to shape the young minds of the future

Image by Admit Hero.

The annual For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) robotics kickoff competition for the upcoming season was held at Palo Verde High School on Saturday, January 7th. This event gave contestants of all ages a chance to exchange ideas for their robots, strategize for the best chance to win, and make new friends along the way.

Since 1992, the FIRST competition has grown into a nationwide spectacle, reaching as many as 400,000 young people per year. Teams are active not only in the United States, but also across the world, including Australia and China. The competition combines students and mentors who then build their own unique robots and go head-to-head in a high-energy environment. This year’s competition is called FIRST Steamworks. Contestants must use their robots to collect fuel to build pressure and install gears and rotors, which will generate steam power for the airships they build. Whichever team’s airship was the most ready for flight when time runs out, wins.

There are also three other competitions that are lower in age and challenge level. There is the FIRST Lego League Jr., FIRST Lego League, and FIRST Tech Challenge. These four events aren’t simply robot-building contests however—they mean far more to their contestants. According to the competition’s website, life skills are obtained that shape participants’ minds and enhance their futures.  The website also features a video showcasing the many instances where students found their passion and went on to pursue a career they never thought existed.

Former contestant John Dwyer, now a mentor, spoke about his experiences in the competition. His team, Team 71, won multiple championships. “I traveled to places I never thought I would go, the opportunities were endless and I met so many people,” Dwyer said. “The World Championships is unlike anything out there.”

The intensity of the competition is what kept him coming back for more. “I love the joy and feeling you get, the adrenaline that comes about when the clock is running out, and the frustration when it breaks, or doesn’t work properly. It’s an event that’s full of emotions, but it can also be very fun,” he said.

He describes other participants as competitive, but friendly and helpful.

Being a mentor means a lot to Dwyer. He enjoys teaching younger people how to better their skills and how to budget their time. Skills taught to students include how to code and program, speak in front of large groups, and develop mechanical and electrical knowledge. “The more you know, the better the outcome, whether it’s mechanically related or life related,” he said.

The vision of FIRST, according to founder Dean Kamen, is “to transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated, and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”

Anyone looking to get involved with FIRST can do so by visiting their website. Whether you’re a student interested in robots or an aspiring mentor looking to help shape young minds, FIRST will provide you with the mechanics to do so.

Joey Greaber

Author: Joey Greaber

Joey is a journalist, film critic and a gamer. He attended the University of Arizona, where he earned a degree in film & television. In his spare time he enjoys going to the movies, playing old Nintendo games, and podcasting with an ice cold IPA.

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