FIRST robotics begins a new year

Published 1:26 am Sunday, January 6, 2008

A new year begins and a new game for the upcoming robotics competition has been unveiled at the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology kick-off event held at the John C. Stennis Space Center Saturday morning.

Five new students have joined Pearl River County’s Robotics team while a number of seniors graduated last year. Maureen Pollitz said all of the drivers from last year’s team were seniors, so the team will be starting fresh in that respect.

To lessen the learning curve, the team plans to use the same drive system that the past robots used. This will provide practice opportunities for the new drivers to hone their skills using previous years’ robots, Pollitz said.

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“We have quite a few that want to drive,” Pollitz said.

This year’s FIRST game, called Overdrive, will be a variation of racing and ball handling based scoring. The race course will have an overpass that will house four 40 inch diameter balls, two red and two blue. Six teams will split into two alliances for each game and race around the track for points while attempting to push or carry the balls across scoring lines.

Other ways to score points include knocking the balls from the overpass in order to bump or carry the balls across the four scoring lines. Teams also can score by making sure balls are back on the overpass by the time the match ends.

In past years new technology has been added to the competition to increase the level of experience students receive, such as the autonomous mode used last year. This year’s addition is an infrared receiver chip, which was included in each robotics kit the teams received. How the team will use those chips, typically with an ordinary television remote, is up to the individual team.

The aim is to expose teams to real world technology and entice them to form mentorships with today’s engineers in hopes that students will become tomorrow’s engineers.

Not only does participation in FIRST provide students with experiences and skills that could shape their lives, it also offers the opportunity to obtain part of about $9 million in college scholarships.

In an effort to show people there is more to life than traditional sports and entertainment, FIRST founder Dean Kamen said that FIRST provides children, women and minorities the chance to learn how they can shape the future of their world through technology. Those skills could help them discover ways to help the world and the environment.

“Unlike other sports, we’re really not about how many points you get,” Kamen said. “It’s about building and understanding what’s possible. The world really is in a race between competition and catastrophe and sometimes I really think catastrophe is winning.”

The same engineers who worked with Pearl River County’s team last year will return, but Pollitz said if there are any other engineers in the area interested in mentoring they can contact either her or Michelle Carter at Nicholson Elementary.

FIRST began in New Hampshire with only 28 teams in 1992. Now the competition covers the globe with more than 1,500 teams participating.