FIRST Robotics Update—Menino Wowed, Big Crowd, Really Loud

3/31/08Follow @bbuderi

Saturday’s regional high school robotics competition held at Boston University’s Agganis Arena event set records for attendance, mayoral wowing, and sci-tech luminary gazing. Two teams from Massachusetts, one from New Hampshire, and one from New York state were among the big winners.

That’s the report from Xconomist Marc Hodosh, chair of Boston FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). On Saturday, I posted a short account of my visit to the (extremely loud) event—and of emcee Woodie Flowers’s spectacular arrival, which you can now see on YouTube. But I had to leave before it wrapped up, and so I asked Hodosh for an update on the winners and his take-home thoughts from the competition. It turns out the top prize, called the chairman’s award, went to Agawam High School of Agawam, MA. The award recognizes not the winner of the competition, but “the team that best represents a model for other teams to emulate and best embodies the purpose and goals of FIRST,” according to the FIRST website. In order of their finish, the three winners of the competition, meanwhile, were Shenendehowa High School, of Clifton Park, NY; Trinity High School, Manchester, NH; and Tewksbury Memorial High School, Tewksbury, MA. All will join Agawam at the finals in Atlanta this April, along with Rookie All Star award winner Watertown (MA) High School and Engineering Inspiration prize winner, Leominster (MA) High.

For a list of other award winners, go here. Following are some highlights from Hodosh’s report:

—Boston FIRST Regional attracted 7,200 spectators this year, on Saturday alone. Blue Man Group was spectacular and really helped draw in the public and expose them to FIRST.

—We tried to mimic major sports, we know that works…and had ‘entertainment’ just like the Superbowl has a special half-time show…We had Blue Man Group, which ultimately climaxed into featuring Woodie Flowers, well-known professor/engineer, who descended from rafters using robotic rope climbing device from Atlas Devices (used for military usually). The 1st year, we introduced our emcee via the water tank inside a Zamboni. 2nd year we introduced the emcee via an autonomous Kiva Systems robot (our head ref, Benge Ambrogi, works there), 3rd year… Woodie Flowers descends from the rafters after an amazing performance by Blue Man Group…. 4th year… WHO KNOWS!… but it WILL be bigger and better!

—2008 Boston FIRST regional was largest attended FIRST regional event…ever.

—51 teams in total, most MA, but also other states including Ohio, CT, ME, NH, RI

—Mayor Menino was pleasantly surprised… staying longer than expected. He visited all the Boston area teams that were competing in the pits and addressed the attendees.

—Special judges, luminaries in their field included: Woz (Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple), Colin Angle (co-founder and CEO of iRobot—and budding movie star), Bob Metcalfe (co-inventor of the Ethernet)

—Special guests/VIPs who attended include: John Abele (founder of Boston Scientific and chair of FIRST), George Church (Harvard biologist), Marvin Minsky (MIT artificial intelligence pioneer), Henri Termeer (CEO of Genzyme), Paul Sagan (CEO of Akamai), Dennis Berkey (President of WPI), Jeff Shames (Chairman, Berklee School of Music), Ken Zolot (MIT), Anne Swift (founder, Young Inventors International), Ihor Lys (founder Color Kinetics) & Fritz Morgan (CTO Color Kinetics), Michael Hawley (formerly of Media Lab), and Bob Frankston (co-creator of VisiCalc).

—We are running out of room to hold people, the arena is at capacity and we are looking at options. It’s amazing that “Science and technology” can attract so many people in a competitive environment that is stimulating kids to learn and solve problems… and recognizing “true’” heroes of society.

—I feel great synergy between FIRST and my work at X PRIZE. These FIRST kids are the “future” competitors in X PRIZE competitions! We need them! It is very likely that some of them will land on Mars, solve the cure for cancer, learn the keys about human aging, etc.

FIRST founder Dean Kamen very much wanted to attend, Hodosh reports. But he “needed to be at the launch of the inaugural Hawaiian Regional, organized by the Governor of Hawaii.”

Let’s see, Boston in March or Hawaii…we understand, Dean.

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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  • http://www.onstott.com Neil Greco

    What a great event! For those that are not familiar with F.I.R.S.T. – both at a corporate sponsorship level and at a personal level – you need to check this out (www.usfirst.org). It is a fantastic way for young adults to experience good clean competitive fun that requires strong creative and intellectual presence. This event fuels the next generation of technological and business entrepreneurs. For event results visit http://www.thebluealliance.net.