Machines clash at the FIRST Robotics Competition.

Image courtesy FIRST Robotics

FIRST Basics

The FIRST Robotics Competition stands at the heart of the entire organization. Here, specially designed robots compete against each other in short games such as Lunacy, a kind of robots-only basketball for the circuit board set. Each robot, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg. A team of high school students, along with a handful of mentoring engineers and teachers, constructs each machine, and the students themselves program and remotely control the robots during play.

It all begins each fall, when FIRST teams form and work toward the annual FIRST Robotics Competition kickoff in early January. This signals the beginning of the six-week build season, as teams work toward participation in FIRST Robotics Competition regional events, typically involving a 40-to-70-team throwdown at a university arena. The winners advance to a championship event to finish the season.

Fans, judges and referees oversee each competition, but the playing fields themselves are restricted during competition: no humans allowed. It's more than just a point game, however, as the judges evaluate teams and hand out awards for design, technology, sportsmanship and commitment to FIRST. In fact, the highest honor, The Chairman's Award, singles out the team that exemplifies the values of FIRST.

Since 1992, the FIRST Robotics Competition has grown from 28 teams to more than 2,200 projected for 2011.