FIRST Robotics Competition comes to UNI

Mark your calendar. March 24-26, 2016. The UNI campus will be abuzz with robots as the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Iowa Regional  gets under way at the McLeod Center and the UNI Dome.


FRC won’t be quite like Real Steel, the 2011 Hollywood science-fiction sports drama starring Hugh Jackman. No, there will be no Atom and Zeus fighting it out in the boxing ring.


However, there will be robots trying to breach their opponents’ defense and capture their towers.


“This year, each team of robots will be attempting to breach the wall and take down the tower of the opposing side’s castle,” says Marcy Seavey, UNI STEM Coordinator. “There will be motes, spies, and cannons, and each round will be completed in less than 20 minutes.”


Guess who will build and run the robots! Yes, high school students participating in the competition, with the help of their mentors.


This is how it works: Engineers and other professionals from some of the world’s most respected companies volunteer as engineering and technical mentors for each team of 10 or more high school students. The teams are provided with parts and build at least one robot following a standard set of rules.


The objective is, according to FIRST, for the students to “gain maturity, build self-confidence, learn teamwork, and gain an understanding of professionalism” so that they can fill “more than two million STEM-related positions available in the US today.”


The FIRST Robotics Competition Iowa Regional will feature 53 teams from six Midwestern states plus China and Brazil, comprising more than 1,300 members.


Each team will have one or two robots. Two alliances of three robots will face off in every round; the winners will be judged on the basis of the number of times they make it past the opponents’ defenses and the number of boulders they put through the goals in their opponents’ tower. In the final 20 seconds, the robots may even surround and scale their opponents’ tower.


The alliance finishing first will go on to participate in the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship, scheduled to be held April 27-30 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Missouri. More than 3,100 teams in the United States and 24 countries worldwide are expected to compete in 53 regional and 65 district competitions for a place in the championship in St. Louis.


UNI faculty, staff and students should attend the competition because, first and foremost, “it will be jam-packed fun and excitement,” Seavey says. “FRC is the ultimate sport for the mind!”


Moreover, the competition “will provide an especially unique opportunity for our preservice teaching majors to experience a robotics competition, see demonstrations of all levels of FIRST Robotics, and to interact with the team members and mentors,” she says.


“Our preservice teachers will be called upon to coach FIRST and other academic ‘sports’ in their future schools,” she adds. “This is their chance to see the penultimate robotics competition in action.”


Besides, “the FIRST Robotics Competition and UNI are a good match” in terms of their missions and visions, Seavey says. “Part of FIRST’s mission is to foster self-confidence, communication, leadership skills — a perfect match for UNI’s goals of supporting the academic, professional, and personal success of our students.”


“Participation in FRC not only builds their technical skills, like engineering and computer programming, but also engages students in leadership, communication, problem-solving, and other broad-based skills that will serve them well at a comprehensive university like UNI, regardless of their future major,” she adds.


While FRC robots will be the center of attraction, several other activities are scheduled during the competition. FIRST Lego League and FIRST Tech Challenge demos will be held on Thursday, March 24, from 10:00am to 4:00pm, and on Friday, March 25, between 10:00am and 1:30pm. The Junior FIRST Lego League Exposition is also scheduled to take place on Friday from 9:30am to 11:30am.


One more thing: All aspects of the competition are open to and free for UNI faculty, staff, and students.


There’s hardly any excuse for you not to come and join the fun and excitement! See you all there!

Mir Ashfaquzzaman, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant