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Step Aside Olympians, the Robotics Competition Is Upon Us

THE place to be over the next three days for all you robotics enthusiasts is Atlanta's Georgia Dome. That's where more than 10,000 students—and 530 robots—from around the world are competing in the 19th annual FIRST Championship. (FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.)

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The three-day event involves a series of "high-energy, intense robotic competitions," according to a press release from FIRST, the nonprofit that organizes the effort. This year, the competition gave 212,000 young people the chance to work with professional engineers to solve "complex, real-world problems, and help to fuel the next generation of leaders."

On Saturday, the final day of the competition, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is scheduled to address the participants and the audience.

Each year, the nonprofit FIRST, founded by inventor Dean Kaman, issues an engineering challenge. With the help of mentors and professional engineers, students then build and program robots to compete in the challenge.

The championship includes three competitions:

• The FIRST Robotics Competition, dubbed "Breakaway," involves robots competing in a soccer-like game to climb obstacles and score goals against their opponents. There are 1,809 robotics teams with an average of 25 students per team, all high schoolers.

• The FIRST Tech Challenge, dubbed "Hot Shot!", involves robots earning points by collecting and firing balls into designated goals. This is a "more accessible and affordable modular robotics kit," with more than 100 teams of approximately 10 high school students, the press release explains.

• The FIRST LEGO League, targeting middle schoolers, features 84 teams in a "Smart Move" competition applying robotics and research to transportation safety and efficiency problems.

So, it's not too late. Get in your car, hop on a bus, catch a plane—or better still, a LEGO robot—to the Peach State.

Photo Credit: Teams fine-tune their LEGO robots in a regional First Lego League competition in Orangeburg, S.C. Christopher Huff/Times & Democrat.

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