Students from 63 different high schools from 10 states gathered in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, in Washington D.C. to play a friendly game of basketball, hosted by For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.
But here’s the catch, the students weren’t the ones making free throws from the foul line. The robots that they created within a 6-week period were actually playing the game.
The students worked in groups and each team received the same materials and deadline, but no instructions on how to build their robot.
“It’s awesome. It’s beyond education. It’s inspiration. We need to support our students at all levels,” said Julia Martas, D.C.’s State Civil Rights and Gender Equity Coordinator. “It’s just showing our students—our young people from across the world—that they can do it.”
This year the FIRST Robotics competition, which has been held annually since 1992, hosted “Rebound Rumble” which tasked the students with designing a basketball-playing robot.
There were two alliances of three teams against each other. Each alliance had two minutes and 15 seconds to try to score as many points as possible with their creations. More difficult shots were worth more points. The higher the hoop, the more they received.
While the competition may seem like an exercise in futility to some, FIRST’s spokesman Jim Babb is looking at the bigger picture.
“These are the kids who are going to be designing the things that are going to save my life—the robots that are going to do surgery on me, that will help me get around. They are going to design the robots that are going to go to Mars and Jupiter and everywhere else. This is the future in here,” he said.
Julia agrees. "It’s not just about building robots. It’s about life. It’s about resolving issues, addressing issues that we face at all ages from a critical thinking standpoint and an analytical thinking standpoint,” said Julia, who served as a judge. “Our kids do this all of the time; they just don’t realize it and they don’t have as much fun as this.”
Some students plan to continue to be involved in the yearly competitions after they graduate.
“I know this is our last year, as seniors, but I want to come back and mentor the team as well. I want to make sure that the team keeps going,” said Ashley Jordan who was the business manager and safety co-captain of Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School. Phelps High School was ranked 29 in the competition.
D.C.’s Team 2914 from Woodrow Wilson High School, Shrewsbury High School in Shrewsbury, Mass. and Upper Darby High School in Drexel Hill, Pa. were the winning alliance.
Wilson High School was the first team from the District to win the D.C. Regional.
“You can only be the champion sometimes in your life and it’s an amazing feeling to know that all of your hard work has paid off and that you are able to perform at the top level,” said Wilson’s coach Angela Benjamin, who is a physics and engineering teacher.
The winning alliance will compete at the FIRST World Championship in St. Louis from April 26-28.