Over 50 teams, including several from Fairfax County, spent the weekend at the two-day FIRST Robotics Competition Greater D.C. Regional, using their engineering and science skills to compete for a spot in the world championship.
The competition, which took place at the Patriot Center in Fairfax on March 28 and 29, allowed students from Virginia, Maryland, Washington D.C. and other states along the East Coast to show off their robots and work together in what has been called “the varsity Sport for the Mind.”
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a nonprofit organization that helps young people foster an interest in science and engineering.
Students had only six weeks to design and build a robot for the competition. The robot can be up to 5 feet tall and can weigh no more than 120 pounds.
This year’s game was called “Aerial Assist,” and requires the robots to shoot exercise balls through goals. The competition included more than 100 rounds of the game, in which six teams are divided into three-team alliances.
Brian Morris, the CEO of Chantilly Robotics Team 612, said the team spent most of Friday morning adjusting their strategy for the game.
“It may seem simple, but the strategy behind it is really complex and really deep,” Morris said. “There are certain plays in this game that are very high risk, but high reward. It’s cool and impressive to be able to shoot in the high goal, but if you miss the goal, the ball has the tendency to bounce around and you waste a ton of time, and it’s time when you could be doing the simpler things.”
Chantilly Academy’s strategy seems to have worked, as the team won the Greater D.C. Regional Engineering Inspiration Award and will be advancing to the world competition in St. Louis.
Teamwork is an important value at FIRST, something that can be seen at the competition.
“It’s fantastic. A lot of the teams know each other and we see each other at other events,” Morris said. “It may seem like chaos, but if you ask any FIRST person, they’ll tell you it’s the best thing in the world.”
Members of AIM Robotics Team 1123, which is a community-based team that practices in Lorton, said they enjoy seeing all of the robots in action at the competition.
“It’s a great experience seeing everything put together,” said William Mills, a member of the team. “It’s great seeing all of our hard work put into action.”
Since the teams are organized into red and blue alliances, teamwork is emphasized at the competition and is important to advancing and winning points. The competition is also a great place to learn from each other.
“It’s really cool to see other robots. I’ll see one and think, why didn’t I think of that?” said Ryan Beaver, co-captain of AIM Robotics Team 1123.
The teams rely on their mentors, sponsors and volunteers to help them prepare for the competitions.
“We have some awesome students and mentors,” Morris said.
After the final round, the alliance of Techfire from York, Pa., Team Illusion from Greenbelt, Md., and Fresta Valley Robotics Club from Marshall, Va., won the competition and will be advancing to the world competition in St. Louis.
In addition, several teams in the Northern Virginia area qualify for the world competition after receiving awards at the Greater D.C. competition.
ILITE Robotics from Haymarket, Va., received the Regional Chairman's Award and Chantilly Robotics won the Greater D.C. Regional Engineering Inspiration Award.
Team 1418 from George Mason High School in Falls Church was a finalist at the competition.
According to Robin Thurman, of Oakton, chair of FIRST Robotics Greater DC Regional, the organization’s partnership with the George Mason Volgenau School of Engineering has been enjoyable. She is also impressed with the work the students put towards the competition.
“Each year they get smarter,” Thurman said.