Groups will be traveling from as far away as Ontario, Canada to take part in the competition and the winners will advance to the FIRST Championships held in St. Louis, Missouri this summer.
This year, teams were tasked with designing, building and programming robots that are able to collect and shoot basketballs into one of four hoops to score. The team with the most points at the end of the 2 minute and 15 second match wins.
In the final days of the build season, team members worked long hours on nights and weekends troubleshooting, refining and putting final touches on the robot to ensure that it will be ready to go when they get to Knoxville.
“Just as in industry, the build season presents impossible challenges for students. They have a task too difficult with not enough time, expertise, resources, etc. and yet they must come through and overcome the challenge,” stated Curtis Todd, former team captain and team mentor.
“The final days are filled with chaos and anxiety that always makes the team much closer as everyone begins to look at the unfinished robot and think, ‘What else can I do before I have to leave tonight?’ instead of, ‘What else am I required to do before I can leave tonight?’,” Todd said.
Team mentor Barry Sudduth feels that the process of testing, identifying problems and fixing those problems is a vital part of the FIRST Robotics experience.
“Mechanical drawing skills are necessary, machining skills are necessary, assembly skills are necessary, but one of the things that is overlooked ,and is important in both the mechanical and electrical areas of the robot, are debugging skills,” said Sudduth.
“No matter what you do, you’ll find yourself at a competition and you may have a match coming up in the next twenty minutes and something’s not working; you’ve got to be able to figure it out the problem very quickly,” Sudduth continued. “That is a great skill for the students to learn.”
While participation in the competition itself is a tremendous opportunity, Ray Farley, Executive Director of Alliance Pickens, points out the added benefit of meeting representatives from the companies, colleges and universities that will also be in attendance.
“The mechanical, electrical and fabrication skills the students are learning in the development of their robot are in high demand both locally and nationally,” said Farley. “Human resource recruiters will be in attendance at the regional competition, much like professional and collegiate sports recruiters attend athletic events, to scout talent to either hire to their companies or recruit to their college or university.”
“Competition among colleges and universities for the attention of the FIRST Robotics students is such that they are presently offering over 600 scholarships totaling $14 million nationwide,” Farley continued. “Clemson University and the University of South Carolina alone offer a combined 14 scholarships.“