“Power up your robots!”
It was technology heaven for the hundreds of high school FIRST Robotics competitors. Actually, it was technology-on-the-moon—with the robots, payload specialists, moon rocks, and action in the crater. Welcome to LUNACY, the Finger Lakes Regional FIRST Robotics Competition that took place this past Friday and Saturday in the Gordon Field House. I was a first-time, FIRST Robotics spectator this year. To the uninitiated like myself, one might think the lunatics took over the asylum; I did, at first. But, it truly was organized chaos with intention and purpose.
FIRST Robotics has become the technology Super Bowl for high school students. Similar to the Super Bowl, FIRST competitions have long-time fans, team loyalty and they love the thrill of competition. Plus, they handle the agony of defeat better than most pros with what they term gracious professionalism.
In preparation for covering this event, I had the chance to interview Woody Flowers, one of the lead designers for LUNACY. “We threw a hand grenade into the drive system this year,” Flowers said in the phone interview, describing the new drive train as more complex than in past years. “People develop their self image by doing something difficult and succeeding. The FIRST competitors know that they did well in an environment where you don’t have to destroy the other competitors. It is our responsibility to give teams good problems, a good kit and a fair game. It is not in the spirit of the competition to trash opponents—an opponent this time, may be an ally the next.”
As I watched the competition from in the stands and on the main floor, I learned a few more FIRSTs: There’s a fashion sense one must have when you attend, and I did not have my red and black striped leotards, tie-dyed t-shirt, blue hair or sparkly cape. Who knew? Well, next year. The music is the best dance music around. The emcee made the claim early on, but until everybody started dancing to “Hot, Hot, Hot” and “YMCA” I just didn’t believe.
[The Arctic Warriors from Liverpool High School, Syracuse, N.Y. were quite noticeable in their orange and blue tie-dyed outfits and poufy hats. They were part of the winning alliance for FIRST. Photo by Sue Weisler.]
According to my lunch partner, Bill Miller, director of robotics for the national FIRST organization and in town for the competition, the number of players grows each year and, as of 2009, nearly 27% of the teams are all girl teams, a very encouraging thing…also, more than 80% of FIRST competitors go to college—and graduate. Miller, traveling throughout the country to various regional events, also said that there’s currently a research team at NASA working on a new moon rover for a future space mission made up of all FIRST Robotics alumni.
[On the floor, or the ‘crater’ as they called it, at the FIRST Robotics competition. Photo by Sue Weisler.]
You get the sense that the student-competitors truly believe that the ingenuity it takes to build robots as well as hard-working, innovative and cooperative teams will lead to bigger and better things—so here’s to powering up for future FIRSTs! (And here’s some highlights: http://www.democratandchronicle.com/section/MULTIMEDIA