In case you haven't noticed, the robots have already taken over. No longer confined to industrial assembly lines, they assist human surgeons, patrol hostile skies and even drive around town. They grow up so fast, don't they?

The robotics field continues to worm its way into every aspect of our lives, but these advancements aren't self-sustaining. The fields of robotics, engineering and science depend on a steady pipeline of young minds.

This is where the FIRST organization comes in: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. Founded in 1989 by famed inventor Dean Kamen, the not-for-profit program aims to mold young people into the science and technology leaders of tomorrow.

It's also a lot of fun because, hey, FIRST ultimately boils down to a kind of do-it-yourself robot Olympics. In the organization's own words, it's a "varsity sport for the mind." High school-aged young people from around the world form teams with like-minded cohorts, learn from adult mentors and then build the best robots they can for good-natured, character-building competition.

In this article, we'll take a good look at the basics behind FIRST, how a team rises to the top and what goes on at the national championships.