Thousands of students around the world received a box of parts and a rule book on Saturday as the FIRST Robotics Competition held its official kickoff in Hampshire, at a charged event reminiscent of the opening day of spring training or Midnight Madness for college basketball. NY1's Tara Lynn Wagner filed the following report.
Those who are not hardwired into the world of competitive robotics might not realize the significance of the annual kickoff of the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) robotics competition in New Hampshire. But for the 58,000 students who participate in what organizers call the "Super Bowl of smarts," the Saturday kickoff ceremony at the Southern New Hampshire University had been a long-awaited moment.
"It's like Christmas all over again for us no one can sleep the night before. We're just anxious to see what it is," said one particpant.
Students gathered at some 70 locations in the United States and beyond to watch a taped unveilling that included MVPs from all walks of life, including entertainer Stephen Colbert.
But only people in the auditorim of had the benefit of knowing an actual field was just behind the room's doors. With no peeking allowed, the morning was full of speculation as to what kind of sport the robots would play this year.
"We were kind of thinking it had something to do with tennis balls," said one participant.
"They might think it's a football game," said another.
It turned out this year's game is based on basketball. FIRST officials said they wanted something that would be instantly recognizable.
"We don't wnat to be just for geeks. We want to be for everybody, so we said this year let's make the game so visually, symbolicly like other sports, that everyone gets excited about it," said FIRST founder Dean Kamen.
Since technology is always changing, it is only logical the challenges should keep up. This year, for the first time ever, students will be "kinect-ed" to their bots in a whole new way.
In addition to a kit with more than 600 parts, each team received a Microsoft Kinect to incorporate into their robot design.
"You will be amazed. Probably by championship you will see full-court baskets and amazing shots from robots and a lot of offense and defense," said FIRST Robotics Director Bill Miller.
This is the 21st season for FIRST, which now includes 2,300 teams from 49 states and 12 countries. While the goal of the game may be to score baskets and rack up points, Kamen's hoop dreams are a little bigger, to change the culture of the country and inspire a whole generation of engineers and innovators.
"You get these kids psyched up about doing this kind of thing and the sky's the limit. They will solve the problems for the 21st century," said Kamen.
The FIRST national robotics championship will be held in April in St. Louis. For more information on the partnership of NY1 and parent company Time Warner Cable with the Connect A Million Minds initiative to highlight education through science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), visit www.connectamillionminds.com.