Teens Will Compete This Weekend to Build Better 'Bots

December 02, 2008

December 2, 2008 — Lessons in mathematics and physics will come to life as high school students wage battle with their robotic creations during the 2008 Virginia FIRST Tech Challenge, to be held this weekend at the University of Virginia.

The competition will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday in University Hall, across the street from the John Paul Jones Arena. The event will bring 48 teams representing about 500 high school students from throughout Virginia to compete in a series of challenges with robots of their own design.

With teams competing on four separate fields of play, there will be near constant robotic action throughout the day. The event is free and open to the public.

Accomplished inventor Dean Kamen founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) in 1989 to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people.

Based in Manchester, N.H., FIRST designs programs to build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology and engineering. The not-for-profit organization hosts a variety of competitions for children starting as young as 6.

Event organizers believe robotics is an effective way to interest children in studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and possibly pursuing careers in related fields. Working with professional engineering mentors, students have six weeks to design, construct and test their robots to meet the season's engineering game challenge.

The 2009 theme, "Smart Move," challenges students to reconsider and streamline many modes of transportation.

"The FIRST Tech Challenge has all the right elements to excite children about science and engineering," said U.Va. professor George Cahen, director of Experiential Programs at U.Va.'s Engineering School and an organizer of this year's event. "The hands-on experience of building and competing with robots is much more influential than reading about the concepts or listening to a lecture."

Top teams will advance to regional competitions, which will culminate in April in a championship match at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

In addition to the main competition, Tech Fair 2008 will be held upstairs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The fair will feature the U.Va. Engineering School's self-driving robotic vehicle, Tommy Jr., a LEGO robotics activity for younger children, and informational booths from engineering and technology companies and schools in the region. 

This year's Virginia FIRST Tech Challenge is possible with generous support from Northrop Grumman Sperry Marine, the University of Virginia, U.Va. Engineering School, Dominion Resources and others.