Robotics Competition for High School Students Hopes to Become a STEM Olympics

Robots are going medieval. NY1's Tara Lynn Wagner went on a quest to New Hampshire to find out more. 

The FIRST Robotics Competition kicked off Saturday, challenging teams of high school students from across the country to build robots from scratch. 

And in a first for FIRST — this year's competition has a theme. 

They came. They saw. They measured. And a few months from now they hope to be robotics royalty. 

"You're about to be given a very hard problem," said Woody Flowers.

More than 50 teams packed Southern New Hampshire University for the official kickoff of the 2016 FIRST Robotics Competition. Thousands more watched a live feed as this year's game was unveiled.  

"It's awesome," says student Ryan Merrikin. "Really cool looking."

It's called FIRST Stronghold and it's a very high-tech version of capture the flag, involving boulders, bridges and an ever changing playing field.

"Lots of obstacles and most importantly they can reconfigure the obstacles between every match and so some of it is permanent and some of it is selected by the audience and some of it is selected by the competitors," said Don Bossi, President of FIRST.

While the courses are always challenging, this year's is more theatrical. Not surprising considering the company FIRST collaborated with.

"If Disney, a great entertainment company, can help make this thing more entertaining we'll not only attract all the kids that already want science and tech but we'll attract the whole school," said Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST. "We'll attract the whole community."

That has long been the quest for founder Kamen — who wants to see America celebrate  engineers and inventors the way it does athletes.  His other goal is to fortify the future by encouraging young people to pursue careers in science and technology. 

"It made me sure that I want to be a mechanical engineer when I grow up," said Carina Savukinas, a student at Windham High School in New Hampshire.

"Robotics isn't just science," said student Monica Sim of Lawrence High School in Massachusetts. "There's also fundraising and marketing and so I'm part of the marketing team which I enjoy. " 

And so the round table keeps growing. More than 3,100 teams will play in this 25th season, including teams from 24 countries and Kamen is in talks with world leaders to turn this into an Olympic style event.

"Because, frankly the next generation of kids isn't that interested in pole vaulters and javeline throwers," Kamen said. "They're interested in tech, they're interested in the web, they're interested in competing in drones and robots and so we think we are the Olympics for the 21st century."

In addition to receiving the rules, teams across the country were given a kit of Parts containing hundreds of pieces.  They now have six weeks to build the bots that will battle their way to the national championship in St Louis this spring.

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