[January 30, 2014]PEKIN — Forty high school
robotics teams from six Midwestern states will play a high-tech game
of catch and throw with 2-foot diameter exercise balls, battling
each other down a modified basketball court to score goals in a wild
game of push and shove in FIRST's "Aerial Assist."
The three-day event in Pekin will take place inside the
75,000-square-foot Avanti's Dome from Feb. 27 through March 1. The
winner will claim the central Illinois regional title and the right
to compete in the world championship in St. Louis this spring.
FIRST, which represents For Inspiration and Recognition of
Science and Technology, was founded by inventor Dean Kamen, who
created robotic competitions to inspire young people's interest and
participation in science and technology.
This is the 23rd year of the annual FIRST Robotics Championships
and the first competition in downstate Illinois.
In this regional are 19 teams from Illinois, four from Iowa, two
from Indiana, 10 from Missouri, one from Ohio and four from
Seven area high school teams are scheduled to compete: MarsWars
Robotics from Metamora/Washington, the Roboteers from Tremont, Robot
Casserole from Richwoods, Icarus Robotics from Notre Dame, Metal Cow
Robotics from Normal, DERT Robotics from Dunlap and Argos Robotics
The teams will use remote-controlled robot creations, driving
their robots at high speeds up and down the 25-by-54-foot enclosed
field to catch, carry and throw balls to each other and through
oblong goals while avoiding robots from opposing teams.
Admission to the competition is free to the public.
The Pekin competition is one of 97 worldwide this year, with a
total of 2,850 teams and 71,250 high school students.
In the Thursday-Saturday event, students tweak their machines and
put their robots through the paces to make final adjustments on
Thursday, before the competition. All day Friday and again Saturday
morning the teams compete in nearly 100 qualifying matches. The top
teams on Saturday afternoon battle each other for the championship
and the right to attend the world contest in April.
"Pit row" opens to the teams at 8 a.m. Feb. 27. Each team is
allotted a 10-by-10 space that doubles as a mini-machine shop filled
with their tools and spare parts and serves as an educational center
of the history and direction of their team. Sponsorship banners and
posters adorn the back and sides, and small tables hold handout
information about that particular team.
"Pit ambassadors" are students who are trained to answer
questions, and they are eager to talk candidly about their robot and
team. They also answer questions by scouts from other teams about
the abilities and limitations of each robot.
Throughout the three-day weekend, judges stop in front of each
team's pit space to interview the pit ambassadors about their robot
and team in general, and specifically ask teams how their club has
affected their communities and schools with their technology.
Answers and observations are jotted down on clipboards. The results
are factored into decisions for awards presented at the end of the
There are no matches on the first day, but the teams run practice
rounds from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Opening ceremonies begin on Friday
at 8:30 a.m., and qualifying matches run from 9 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.
and again from Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The final rounds for
the championship commence at 1:30 p.m. Saturday and are capped by
the awards ceremony at 4:30 p.m.
Each team is comprised of 10 to 40 high school students. The
students have more than average interest in electronics, gaming, 3-D
design, programming, science, math and engineering. Any students
with an interest in technology, robots, programming and fabrication
of robots are welcomed by robotics teams.
Adult mentors numbering three to 20 per team come from a wide
array of backgrounds, such as engineers and consultants of
technology firms; skilled tradesmen in electrical, mechanical,
metals and fabrication fields; and managers of software and computer
science corporations. Teachers and parents also mentor the students
and children during the "build season" of six weeks and throughout
the year for informal competitions and events.
This year's game was unveiled globally on Jan. 4 by the FIRST
organization via a NASA Internet streaming video presentation. Local
teams and mentors gathered at Bradley University in Peoria to watch
the hourlong presentation on the big screen and a three-minute
animation of the game.
Before Jan. 4, no team knew what the game was going to be or any
of its rules. The 100-page game manual, which reads like an IRS rule
book, details the do's and don'ts that must be followed in the
fabrication and operation of the competition robot. The manual
spells out electrical and mechanical specifications, software,
weight, height, acceptable motors and materials, and other general
limits and was released at the same moment as the video presentation
of the game.
The rules also state that the robot must be completed before Feb.
18 at midnight, just six weeks after the unveiling of the game.
Before midnight Feb. 18, the robot must be sealed in a special
plastic bag, tagged, signed and witnessed, and not opened until the
judges oversee the opening of the robot bags the evening before the
Inside the Avanti's Dome on Feb. 26, between 6 and 8:30 p.m.,
five representatives from each team will present their still-bagged
robot to an inspection judge, who will watch as each team opens
their sealed bag. Judges will then inspect the robot for compliance
with the rules of construction and fabrication, weigh it, measure
its size, test safety mechanisms and power supplies, check wiring
and motors, and ensure all safety controls and emergency stop
mechanisms comply with the rules.
During the Pekin competition a total of 110 matches will be
played. Matches are set up by a computer that randomly selects the
schools and places them into alliances of three teams each.
The opposing "Red Alliance" and "Blue Alliance" of three teams
each play against each other in matches lasting two minutes and 30
seconds. The computerized selection process ensures that none of the
matches will have the same three teams on a given alliance.
Student "drivers" on each alliance positioned at each end of the
field work their wireless joysticks and game console controllers
against the opposing alliance. Alliances also earn points for
throwing balls over a 5-foot-tall truss spanning the middle of the
field. More points are earned by robots catching balls thrown over
the truss by other robots.
The teams that individually gain the most points will play the
final rounds Saturday afternoon. The top six teams from this
regional competition will advance to the World Robotics Championship
in St. Louis, Mo., April 23-26.
This competition is one of 70-plus competitions held globally by
the FIRST Robotics Competition. Other events by FIRST are FIRST Tech
Challenge for high school and middle school students, FIRST Lego
League for 9- to 14-year-olds, and Junior FIRST LEGO League for 6-
The FIRST organization was founded in 1989. Based in Manchester,
N.H., the 501(c)(3) not-for-profit public charity designs
accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue
education and career opportunities in science, technology,
engineering and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge and
The hallmark of FIRST is its registered trademark, "Gracious
Professionalism," a method of teaching students that encourages
high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects
individuals and the community.
With support from three out of every five Fortune 500 companies
and about $16 million in college scholarships this year, the
not-for-profit organization hosts competitions for kindergarten
through high school seniors.
For more information about the competitions, or to volunteer or
start a team, visit
For sponsorships, donations and involvement in the FIRST
programs, visit www.usfirst.org.