FIRST Robotics Regionals Bring Sports Fervor to Engineering

3/30/10Follow @xconomy

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develop the best strategy for the roughly two-minute, three-against-three game.

Saturday’s regionals brought about other opportunities for collaboration that you wouldn’t normally see. Local readers may know that Newton’s two high schools are chief rivals when it comes to sports. But the two schools joined as one team to build a robot for the competition, naming themselves the Ligerbots, a hybrid of the Newton North Tiger mascot and the Newton South Lion mascot.

Teamwork is just one of the many skills the FIRST organizers hope that the high school contestants can eventually take into the workforce. In the process of building their robot, students exercise much of the same design decision-making that professional engineers do. I spoke with some across-the-pond contestants from the American School in London, who told me they opted to equip their robot with a lifter (the part that keeps it in the air) in lieu of a kicker (the part that shoots the ball), in order to make the weight restrictions.

One of the main ideas behind FIRST is to get students involved in an extracurricular activity with sports-like structure and energy, but much greater future opportunities beyond high school than athletics typically provide. The corporate sponsors, who included Google, Boston Scientific, Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC), and iRobot, generally see their contributions to the contest as an investment in a future workforce of engineers, designers, and businesspeople.

“You can be excited about this just like you can a sports team, but you can actually do this as a real job,” said Jacob Warren, an engineer at defense robotics firm QinetiQ North America and advisor to a team from Upton, MA’s Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School.

That was a sentiment share throughout the arena Saturday. That, and the fact that engineers should be revered alongside athletes. “It really shows you that it’s cool to be a nerd,” Paige Grody, a sophomore member of the aforementioned Ligerbots, said of the event. “We have more spirit here than at football games.”

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