The FIRST Robotics Competition is a high school robotics competition organized by FIRST. As of early 2007, 1,303 high school teams of 32,500 students from Brazil, Canada, The Netherlands, Israel, the United States, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and others compete to build 100 to 120 pound robots that can complete a task that changes every year. Teams are given a standard set of parts and the game details at the beginning of January and are given six weeks to construct a competitive robot that can accomplish the game’s tasks. In 2007, teams competed in 37 regional competitions throughout March to try and qualify for the championship event in Atlanta, Georgia in April. Previous years’ championships have been held in Houston, Texas and at Epcot in Walt Disney World.
The FIRST Robotics Competition involves teams of mentors (corporate employees, teachers, or college students) and high school students who collaborate to design and build a robot in six weeks. This robot is designed to play a game, which is designed by FIRST and changes from year to year. This game is announced at a nationally simulcast kickoff event in January. Regional competitions take place around the United States as well as in Canada and Israel, but FIRST has a multinational following that further includes the United Kingdom, Brazil, Australia, and Germany.Teams are expected to solicit local businesses for support in the form of donations of time, money, or skills. The average team has approximately 25 students, but participation can range from 10 to 100.
The competition is a yearly event. The most intense participation occurs between the months of January and April, but “mini-competitions” are hosted by many teams in school gymnasiums throughout the year. In early January, FIRST announces the details of a game to all participating teams. The game changes very much from year to year, with only a few rules such as the approximate size of the robot staying the same.
For the next six weeks following the kickoff, called the “build season,” the teams begin to design a robot to play the game, essentially from scratch. Team members spend the time designing strategies to play the game, drawing up ideas for robot parts, working with size and weight constraints, and finally, building and assembling their robot. Other challenges include gaining driver experience, building the electronics for the robot, and programming it. After the build season has ended (usually the 3rd full week of February), teams must ship their robot to where their first competition is.Competitions for FIRST consist of 37 regional competitions, and one championship event. Regionals typically involve between 20–65 teams. Teams are randomly paired into qualification matches, where they earn ‘qualifying points’, the calculation of which changes each year. The game changes every year, but for the most part, they involve some autonomous (computer controlled) robot operation for 10–15 seconds at the beginning of a match, followed by a much longer period (usually 2 minutes) of remote control. Teams use scoring objects on the field to get points, which are evaluated only after the match has completely ended.
The Championship event is held every year in April, often in a large stadium or convention center in the Southeastern United States. The championship event consists of four divisions of 85–95 teams competing on one of four fields: Galileo, Newton, Archimedes and Curie. The teams compete for the division championship title in the same way they would compete in a regional. The division champions then bring their robots over to the Einstein field to compete in an elimination tournament to determine the champion.