Saturday morning started with a bang as “Cotton Eye Joe” blared through the speakers and people filled UNC Asheville’s Kimmel Arena. The North Carolina District FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition began at 8 a.m. on March 19 and ran through Sunday, March 20 — during which 24 high school teams from North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire matched their wits and the high-tech prowess of their robots in a contest for the annual honors.
Promotional tables for colleges and other FIRST-related organizations lined the entrance as friends and family walked in. Chris Swain, a Hendersonville local, took in the offerings accompanied by his wife and two sons. “My oldest at 10, he’s finally at the point now where he can start building and start doing all this stuff,” Swain said amidst the noisy crowd. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out here: Get them excited and find some resources for us as well.” He added that his sons love to play with robots at science museums, so he figured this would be a fun event for them.
After the opening ceremonies, teams prepared their robots for the field.
For the event, Kimmel arena has been configured like a fortress, in which robots from each team will perform certain duties such as climbing walls and shooting a 10-inch rubber ball into a target in order to gain points.
Meanwhile, upstairs, as the competition unfolds below, UNC Asheville is hosting an open house with the goal of attracting an even larger crowd to the competition. Neil Rosenberg, mentor for Asheville’s “GLITCH” team, explains that he hopes the people attending open house will wander in to watch the matches. “You can’t be in the balcony and not hear what’s going on down here,” he says from the team’s pit station.
The arena is divided into two parts: one for the actual competition and the other called the pit.” Each of the 24 teams has its own designated area in the pit for maintaining and promoting its robots. Volunteers sit in front of the pit’s entrance and make sure everyone who enters is wearing safety goggles and close-toed shoes.
Two of the volunteers include Kay Bridges and Stacy York, both mentors for Statesville’s “Elemental Dragons” team. Stacy has a son on the team and she marvels over his transformation. “I have seen my son grow so much in this,” she says. “When he started, he was shy, he wouldn’t talk to nobody, and now he’s just… I mean, he’s just took off ever since he joined the team.”
Kay, a 4-H agent for Iredell County and sponsor of the Statesville team, says she thinks the FIRST competition has been very important to the students’ learning. “They’re not just learning science and technology; they’re learning to work together as a team,” she explains. “They’re learning to make decisions, they’re learning critical thinking skills. I think it is an amazing experience for everyone that’s on these teams.”
At 1 p.m., everyone takes a lunch break. Some team members go outside while others work in the pit on their robots. The members of one team, “Girls on Fire,” an all-girl group from Winston-Salem, sit at a table and paint flames on each other’s faces. One member, Julia Workman explains how the team is sponsored by a women’s organization with the goal of promoting more women in STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
After lunch, all the teams return to the arena, as the struggle for robotic hegemony continues until 6:30 Saturday evening.
The next day, Sunday, is comprised of ceremonies, with the winners being announced at 4 p.m. And this year’s winners are (based solely on ranking points):
- First place: “The Flying Platypi” from Colfax, N.C.
- Second place: “Cruisin’ Crusaders” from Manchester, N.H.
- Third place: “The Chargers” from Cary, N.C.
For other rankings and scoring results visit the FIORST FRC District Rankings website.