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High School Robotics Competition Kicks Off 64

DeviceGuru writes "Some 35,000 high school students from over 1500 high schools in eight countries today began competing in the annual US FIRST student robotics contest. This year's competition, dubbed FIRST Overdrive, challenges the student teams to build semi-autonomous robots that will move 40-inch diameter inflatable balls around a playing field and score the most points. In this year's game, two alliances of three teams each work collaboratively to win each round. An animated simulation of the game (in several video formats) is available online."
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High School Robotics Competition Kicks Off

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  • Why don't they just enter Robocup [robocup.org]?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Gertlex ( 722812 )
      Why enter Robocup?

      I'm sure it's a pet fave of yours, but why might it be better for high school students who don't know much about engineering in the first place?

      FIRST team do a new robot every year. Makes it easier for students to get in to. FIRST has the coordination for over a thousand teams to compete in roughly 40 regional competitions. FIRST robots are barely autonomous... generally the first 15 seconds of every game has been the autonomous mode. The rest is been teleoperated. FIRST provides teams
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Blnky ( 35330 )

      Why don't they just enter Robocup [robocup.org]?

      One of the reasons is they are attempting to give the kids a sense of what is like as an adult who would do anything similar in real life. They keep the exact nature of the contest a huge secret until the start of the six week building time. Then you have that time and that time only to design, implement and test everything. If you can't do it in time, you loose, there is no extension. The clock is always ticking thus giving the right amount of pressure. The only thing missing is being able to scream at th

  • It will be interesting to see what type of schools in what countries do better. I participated in the Panasonic robotics competition held in NJ when I went to high school. A majority of the time, it was the private schools that end up doing the best.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Mazin07 ( 999269 )
      In FIRST, the best teams are usually the ones that have the big-name sponsors (Motorola, GM, Delphi, etc.), meaning a lot more equipment, money, and professional mentors. Whether this is causal is uncertain, but the correlation seems to be there.
      • I've seen that the ones who win are the ones who have NASA build their robots for them. Usually NASA "mentors" a couple of the teams from my region, so they end up with the exact same robot (except for the paint color). Yes, I'm bitter, especially because the competition specifically condoned this kind of "collaboration" for this year.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by halifamous ( 1142139 )
          I agree, but I'll say disillusioned, rather than bitter.

          Last year was my first as a teacher/mentor for a Canadian team. It was a real wake-up call to go to last year's competition and see the team beside with GM logos on everything. How should high school kids be expected to compete against a team of GM-trained P.Eng mentors?

          When Dean Kamen said today that "every team should have professional engineers", I realized that I didn't know what the competition was actually about. I thought we were here to teac
          • by billdar ( 595311 ) *
            I can dig what you're saying, but hopefully I can give you another angle

            I'm a professional controls engineer mentoring a team in California. I've also been a judge at the competitions. And I agree every team needs at least one, ideally a ME, EE, and Embedded CS guy. (or a nerd of magnitude to encompass all of those)

            The reason is that while the kids and non-tech parents are enthusiastic and have great ideas, they have no concept of scope (time and $$) or how to implement their ideas. Project management a

  • From TFS:

    ...challenges the student teams to build semi-autonomous robots that can will move 40-inch balls..."

    So the robots are advanced enough to will move the balls with their own will? All that talk about AI being difficult must be bullshit.
  • I heard one of the people that did well in a competion just like this used a super old program/game called AI Bug to very quickly test out movement logic and search pattern and reactions and stuff. It kinda has its own programming language that's like pseudocode with GOTO line # commands. I've used it before myself and my bug was unbeatable in combat hehehe. But yeah they got it to be really, really intelligent cuz they could just change some code and hit go and let the little bug on the screen act out t
    • by Anonymous Coward
      When I was in high school in the 1950s, I participated in engineering contests like these, at least until they canceled them. Back in those days, they usually had us build a structure of some sort. Bridges were a common one, with the goal being to build a bridge that could hold a certain weight, but was made from only certain materials and the bridge itself had to be under a specific weight. In most cases, it was possible to win the competitions just by doing a good job gluing the balsa wood together, and j
  • Are there any restrictions on what languages/tools/etc they can use aside from the kit of parts provided? The article doesn't mention anything about it, and searching USFirst's website (which seems to be getting hammered right now) doesn't turn up anything either.
    • Last year it was C and EasyC (a scripting language for programmer-deficient teams [usually the new ones that have more than enough to worry about like funding, etc.]). You can use any tools, though a lot of the teams used MPLAB. I used vim, make, mcc (the Microchip compiler), and the ifiloader for Linux.
      • What was your experience with the contest like? It seems like an interesting project, even if you're not a high schooler.

        • They probably enjoy it so much they go on to build the real ones [bbc.co.uk]
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Blnky ( 35330 )
          As a mentor I contribute my time and expertise for free to a local school who has competed for several years. I can say it is both highly stressful and highly fun at the same time. Both the high-school kids and mentors enjoy it a lot and it is really intense. I have seen several kids who had never previously considered messing with this "sciency stuff [sic]" get involved and completely change their minds about what they thought was cool and what they were going to consider going to college for. I am also ve
        • FIRST is an incredible competition. The idea is to get a new young generation of students interested in science and engineering, by creating a cooperative environment between high school teams, business and university sponsors, mentors, and even other teams. It is often very stressful and exciting, and this kickoff marks the beginning of a six week intense building period, followed by shipping the robot and competing at regional events. Every team reacts differently, but there's a good sense of community ar
          • It's an incredible organization... I've been submitting this story annually for 2-3 years, glad to see it finally got posted! Go Teams!
        • FIRST is awesome. I was the main programmer/electronics man my junior and senior years of HS (2005 and 2006), it was more fun than any other club/team I did. The competitions are insane, you won't ever find more geeks in one place, heh. The atmosphere is very competitive, but at the same time there's a comraderie between participants and teams. For instance, I helped a team from a neighboring high school with their program, then went out and dismantled (seriously... we got disqualified) their robot a fe
      • by Lumilux ( 981976 )
        EasyC is not a scripting language; it's an IDE for writing in C with the WPIlib library. It can rookie teams get started pretty quickly, but it's painfully restrictive to work in if you know how to write C. My team's using Gobby, WPIlib, make, mcc, and ifiloader on EEEPCs.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Being a student at a high school which is participating for the first time this year, I attended a seminar on the rules, regulations, etc. Here's a summary of what seemed interesting:

      The competition starts with an automated "challenge," in which the robot must do without human intervention. It then progresses into the manual portion of the competition, in which you can have whatever blend of automation and manual control you wish.

      You're limited to the parts in the kit, plus an approved list of parts from
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Fourier404 ( 1129107 )
        Actually, most years the initial autonomous period (which was only like 10-15 second long...) was really completely independent, but this year we can use tv remotes and a provided IR receiver to have limited control of the robot even during this period. These really aren't "robots" anymore, but just complicated RC cars with arms. I'm not complaining though, my team has enough problems without having to worry about programming the thing. All we have to do is reconfigure the wheel-joystick relationship and we
        • And it looks like the camera is significantly less important this year, the IR device taking its place. This should significantly lower the stress level of most teams' programmers.
    • Speaking as an alumnus programmer and someone who was at a regional kickoff today:

      Development for the FIRST Robotics Controller is in C and typically uses MPLab as an IDE and IFILoader to transfer the program over. FIRST provides default code that takes care of all of the basic yet difficult tasks such as handling some interrupts and communicating with the human operating interface, and provides stubs for user logic in various modes (default, autonomous, low-latency code). There have been reports of some te
  • by Redbluefire ( 1165471 ) on Saturday January 05, 2008 @05:33PM (#21926514)

    The new hybrid period at the beginning of the match is where we'll really get to see teams "shine" (pun intended); You see, in the past teams usually just programed a direct control system and maybe some of the more savvy teams did some dead reckoning for an autonomous mode- Now teams are going to have to figure out just what predictive programming is, and are going to have to design their own method of conveying commands. Personally I'm expecting the majority of teams to use IR, but as I said, some teams are going to be very clever and use something completely unorthodox, and that's the best part of the competition imho.

    • by wolf08 ( 1008623 )
      I'm part of a first year team (we're called rookies) and when I attended my regional kickoff today we were already discussing what we could and couldn't realistically do in the 5-6 weeks of build time. It's very interesting because we have so many ideas that would really improve the competitiveness of our robot that we have already had to drop because we know that they would take way too much time.

      On a side note:

      Does anyone know if I can use C++ to program our robot instead of C (not even objective C
      • I personally cant help you, since I'm happily using IFI_Loader and MPLAB (ok, not happily, but I can live with it ), but on the very slim chance you don't know about it, the website Chief Delphi [chiefdelphi.com] is basically a huge forum dedicated to FIRST, a pillar of FIRST's community, and I guarantee you dozens of people there can help. ;)
      • i believe there's a replacement for IFI_loader on sourceforge somewhere, you'll need to run the compiler in wine, but it's probably a really bad idea to start trying this stuff on a team's first year. there's no way(that i know of) you'll get any C++ code on the robot, and no real need for it, in all likelyhood you'll be writing under 200 lines of your own code, and most of the difficulty with it will be making it work as you expect it (#define is your friend here). when you're dealing with 130lbs of robot,
  • Is this the same tournament that Grant from Mythbusters was helping kids out with?
    • Yes... He was at a competition or something or another and helping out with a team or something...
    • by billdar ( 595311 ) *
      Yeah, he's a mentor or a sponsor for the Richmond, CA team. He made an appearance at the UC Davis regional competition the last two years.

  • FIRST Robotics is what inspired me to go further with embedded systems. I am currently a Software Engineer at UAT, and am working a lot with embedded systems and microprocessors to create robots. FIRST Robotics also provided me with a real insight into the building, developing and creating ideas to build a finished product. Even as our Robot was being crated we were still working on it.

    FIRST has also taught me to assume that all hardware is faulty, and especially expect it to be wrong, or not working as I w
  • No more programming (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nukem996 ( 624036 ) on Saturday January 05, 2008 @08:23PM (#21928112)
    I was the chief programmer on my team when I was in high school and every year I saw that programming became less and less important to the event and it was more engineering and marketing based. Its really disappointing and this year sounds like they just build a robot and drive it around, autonomous is becoming less and less important and its no longer 100% autonomous this year.
    • by Null537 ( 772236 )
      This is partly misleading. The 15 seconds (now 30) has been completely autonomous in the past, and isn't this year. Keep in mind autonomous wasn't even added until 2003, where autonomous meant very very little, it has gotten bigger since that first year, though admittedly it has varied from year to year.
    • by wegstar ( 888789 )

      I was the chief programmer on my team when I was in high school and every year I saw that programming became less and less important to the event and it was more engineering and marketing based. Its really disappointing and this year sounds like they just build a robot and drive it around, autonomous is becoming less and less important and its no longer 100% autonomous this year.

      Very True. As the chief programmer for my team, I see that programming has become increasingly less important in the FIRST Robotics Competition. As for the marketing aspect, I believe it is what contributes to its decline.

      We are supplied with a custom "robot controller" made by Microchip especially for the FIRST competition. This controller costs $450 for what several cheap 8-bit Atmel microcontrollers to do. Locked in a black box complete with warranty stickers, this device, which we are forced to use, ki

      • I was able to get the proprietary C compiler to run under wine with make files. The school computer I had was way to locked down for development so I got it working under both Ubuntu(4 or 5) and Gentoo along with make files. Theres a number of posts here [chiefdelphi.com] on how to do it. I also found a GPL compiler but didn't have the time to play around with it. I agree it was very locked down and I hated using it. I would have been very happy running embedded Linux on some low powered chip that had much more/better docume
  • That my college (Capitol College) hosted the kickoff for the Chesapeake region. Also proud that My high school's team, Team 007, consistently performs well in the competitions.
  • I participated in the FIRST comp all 4 years of high school. It was pretty fun to work on design and construction but really all the kids on our team knew that it was all about getting to go on trips during the school year for regionals and finals.
  • While my high school robotics team never competed while I was on it, we did serve as volunteers for a couple of years. Y'know, the guys who reset the field after each round and other grunt work.

    It was interesting to watch though, and looked like great fun.

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI