FIRST Robotics Competition Boston Regional

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The FIRST Robotics Competition Boston regional event kicks off today at Boston University’s Agganis Arena.

Teams practiced at the Commonwealth Ave arena yesterday. Two alliances — either red or blue — composed of three randomly selected high school teams each, squared off before a sparse but raucous crowd made up of other teams.

This year’s competition requires the robots to knock a giant rubber ball off a bridge spanning an oval track, carry it counter-clockwise around the track and either launch the ball over the bridge or pass it under it each time they pass a certain point on the track.

Some squat robots used beetle-like pincers to scoop up and carry the ball, with a launching or punching mechanism to get it over the bridge. One robot had a boxing glove attached to a telescopic arm to knock the ball from the bridge.

Other, taller robots used long arms with robotic hands or claws to grab the ball and drop it over the bridge. The robot controlled by the team from BU Academy used such a robot, RoboRed, named after the school’s terrier mascot. Robo Red is a tower on wheels with an craning arm and a claw to grab the ball.

Team captain Sam Roberts, a senior, said he sees the competition like any other sport.

“I probably put more time into robotics than any other sport I’ve done,” he said.

Roberts isn’t sure what college he’ll attend next year, but knows he wants to pursue engineering, and said that FIRST Robotics has given him experience in mechanical, electrical and software engineering.

“I enjoy all of it, and robotics has definitely shown me that,” he said.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded in 1989 by New Hampshire-based inventor Dean Kamen. The nonprofit designs children’s programs that build science and technology skills and interests.

The first 15 seconds of each round is reserved for limited control by the players. Extra points are awarded to robots who can knock the ball off the bridge autonomously, something judge Colin Angle, CEO of Burlington’s iRobot Corp., said he’ll be keeping an eye on.

“A team will earn a special place in my heart if they can add an autonomous capacity to their robot,” Angle said.

Angle said he didn’t have predetermined ideas of what he was looking for in a robot, but tends to value simplicity.

“Simple is good if simple works,” he said. “No more complex than necessary.”

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