Think of it as opening day of spring training or midnight madness for college basketball. Thousands of students around the world received a box of parts and a rule book Saturday as the FIRST Robotics Competition held its official kickoff. Tara Lynn Wagner was in New Hampshire and has that story.
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- If you're not hardwired into the world of competitive robotics, you might not realize the significance of the annual FIRST kickoff in New Hampshire. But for the 58 thousand students who participate in what organizers call the Super Bowl of Smarts, this is the moment they've been waiting for.
Kegan Lebberman of Bedford said, “It’s like Christmas all over again for us no one can sleep the night before. We're just anxious to see what it is.”
Students gathered at some 70 locations in the US and beyond to watch a taped unveiling that included MVPs from all walks of life. But only those here in the auditorium of Southern New Hampshire University had the benefit of knowing an actual field was just behind these doors. With no peeking allowed, the morning was full of speculation.
“We were kind of thinking it had something to do with tennis balls,” said a girl.
Russel Plaumer from Team 1058 PVC Pirates said, “They might think it’s a football game.”
Mentor Tom Curanovic from team 334 Brooklyn Tech said, “I don't know but I hope it’s not water.”
Good guesses but none were a slam dunk. The answer: this years game is based on basketball! FIRST officials say they wanted something that would be instantly recognizable.
FIRST Founder Dean Kamen said, “We don't want to be just for geeks. We want to be for everybody so we said this year let's make the game so visually symbiotically like sports that everyone gets excited about it.”
Since technology is always changing its only logical the challenges should keep up. This year, for the first time ever, students will be "kinect-ed" to their bots in a whole new way.
In addition to a box with more than 600 parts, each team is receiving a Microsoft Kinekt to incorporate into their robot design.
Director of FIRST robotics Bill Miller said, “You will be amazed. Probably by championship you will see full court baskets and amazing shots and offense and defense.”
This is the 21st season for FIRST, or For Inspiration of Science and Technology, which now includes 2,300 teams from 49 states and 12 countries. And while the goal of the game may be to score baskets and rack up points, founder Dean Kamen's hoop dreams are a little bigger, to change the culture of the country and inspire a whole generation of engineers and innovators.
“You get these kids psyched about doing this kind of thing and the sky’s the limit. They will solve the problems for the 21st century,” said Kamen.
The national championship will be held in April in St. Louis.