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Connect A Million Minds: Young Tinkerers Ponder How Robots Can Become Discus Players

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A centuries-old game is going high-tech at this year's FIRST Robotics competition, and more than 2,500 teams of high school students around the world cannot wait to take on the engineering challenge. NY1's Shazia Khan filed the following report.

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Their eyes and ears eager with anticipation, students gathered Saturday for the kick-off of the annual FIRST Robotics competition. Through NASA TV's global broadcast, more than 2,500 high school teams from the East Coast to the Far East learned their mission for this year's challenge, called "Ultimate Ascent."

The goal from FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is to have students build robots that can throw discs and score points. Each team gets six weeks to design and build a bot from an identical kit of parts filled with motors, bolts and other building blocks.

What the students won't find in their kit is instructions.

"There are very few times ever on the planet in one's lifetime that you see over 2,000 solutions to the same problem," said Woodie Flowers, a national advisor for FIRST.

"I can't throw Frisbees myself so I'm curious how to make a robot how to do it," said a participating student.

Students and mentors at the kickoff got a closer look at the field of play and were busy taking measurements and planning strategy.

"I've got the height of the pyramid, height of the plastic, height of how often there are rungs and how big the dispensers are. And it should be helpful in the design of the robot," said a participating student.

FIRST was founded by inventor Dean Kamen in 1989, and more than two decades later the organization continues to challenge its young participants.

Kamen said, "Not one of these students won't look you in the eye at the end when they're tired, exhausted, frustrated and every one of them would look you in the eye and say, 'I can't wait to come back next year because I got more out of it than I put into it, and I put in everything I had.'"

More than $16 million in scholarship money is also up for grabs.

"I'm hoping to go to engineering college or something like that. I'm hoping this is going to open up a lot of opportunities," said a participating student.

Winners from the regionals head to St. Louis for the finals at the end of April. For more on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) opportunities in your community, visit connectamillionminds.com.

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