Robotics isn’t just for geeks anymore

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In the past, robotics seems just a showman, robotics has now become a popular hobby that many people and also learned a lot in schools.

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FIRST Lego League Tech Valley Challenge

TROY — Robots took over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Saturday.

More than 240 middle school students, plus dozens of their families and friends, packed the school’s Darrin Communication Center for the FIRST Lego League Tech Valley Challenge, a robotics competition that had the frenzied atmosphere of a high school wrestling tournament.

The event was organized by FIRST, a New Hampshire nonprofit that promotes science and technology education, and The Lego Group, the Danish toy maker.

And if you think that robotics are just for geeks, think again. FIRST President Paul Gudonis says there are 16,000 teams involved with FIRST robotics leagues kindergarten through 12th grade worldwide. That’s up from just 28 teams in 1992.

The goal is to get kids involved in math and science at an early age.

“This is a sport,” Gudonis said. “This is the fastest-growing sport in schools today. It’s the same theory as Little League. Get them while they are young.”

Teams of 10 participate build and program small, handheld toy robots to perform different tasks that are scored by judges. Twenty-four teams came from around the region and Vermont.

The auditorium was packed to the brim. Many teams had their own cheerleading squads who were waving flags and chanting team songs.

One of the teams was the SuperSonic Squad, a smaller team of just five sixth-graders from Delmar, led by parent John Wilkinson. The team is new to FIRST Lego competition, but they were thrilled with the experience, even if they didn’t perform well enough to win a prize.

“It was really cool,” said James Barnet, 11.

Wilkinson said the team plans to travel to Poughkeepsie next month to participate in a regional tournament. Top winners move on to a national event in Atlanta.

The main sponsor of Saturday’s event was computer chip manufacturer Intel Corp.

Rob Richardson, education manager for Intel’s Massachusetts operations who attended the event, said Intel believes the tournaments teach teamwork and collaboration valuable in the high-tech workplace.

“It brings kids together,” Richardson said. “Kids really want to work together to achieve a common goal.”

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