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Connect A Million Minds: High School Engineers Vie For FIRST Robotics Championship

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Robots playing Frisbee? That's what's happening at the Javits Center this weekend, as local high school students vie for a chance to take their creations to St. Louis and the FIRST Robotics National Championship. NY1's Tara Lynn Wagner filed the following report.

It's a high-flying, and climbing, free-for-all at the FIRST Robotics Regional Competition at the Javits Center.

For the competitors, it's the first road test for robots they have designed and constructed over the last six weeks.

This year's game is Ultimate Ascent. Robots have to shoot discs and climb pyramids on the field to score points.

"They struggle with seeing how some of the things they learn in school, like math or science, are really applicable or important, or what they can even do with them," said Joel Bianchi, coach of the Harlem Knights. "When they come on the robotics team, they say, 'Oh, I use this stuff."

Students work in "pits" on game-day, making last-minute adjustments to their bots before sending them off to battle.

It was the first time in FIRST history that students had to incorporate flying discs into their bots.

NY1 checked back in with the Harlem Knights, who spoke to NY1 while they were building their bot back in February. They said that the added challenge made for a rocky road to regionals.

"It has been very hard and very challenging, but you kind of learn new things along the way," said Alberto Espinal of the Harlem Knights. "During the match and during our trial, and building our robot, we had a lot of little problems, and there weren't many ways to solve them. So we had to think outside the box."

"It's really cool, because we built it ourselves. It actually works," said Julia Lapino, captain of the Cyber Warriors. "It's interesting. You see technology very often, like phones and stuff, we don't think about it. But once you learn how to build it, you appreciate it so much more."

For FIRST, which stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, the hope is that this is just the beginning.

"We have students who have worked with corporate sponsors, who are now doing internships with corporate sponsors, and they're learning such values, and they're learning hard work, and they're learning how to do it and have fun at the same time," said Pat Daly, regional director of FIRST NYC.

"Most of us are kind of introverted, and this kind of got us out of our shell," Lapino said. "We made all these new friends, and now, we're all here together, and we can meet a lot of new people who are like us."

The winners from this competition will advance to the finals, set for the end of April in St. Louis.

For more information about science, technology, engineering and math opportunities in your community, visit connectamillionminds.com.

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