See how this fascinating program is attracting students to study science and technology …
A regional FIRST Tech Challenge competition playing field gets set up for tournament play at OMSI.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
In the world of high school robotic competitions, student engineers in the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) program don’t make huge machines. But, they seem to take their mid-level robotics competition as seriously as if they were.
“Here at OMSI, we have 16 teams from all over the state, involved in this Oregon FIRST Tech Challenge qualifying tournament,” said its director, Cathy Swider, as the competition was about to begin on February 4.
Oregon FIRST Tech Challenge Director Cathy Swider oversees the start of another competition.
This program was developed, Swider said, to provide an opportunity for high-school students – who are too old to qualify for the middle-school oriented FIRST Lego League – to participate in a similar program. “It’s a great way to for students to experience the fun of learning science, technology, engineering, and math and, at the same time, to consider the possibility of a technical career.”
Benson High FTC Team 187 members Chris Halverson, Chris Lord and Vic Biggs talk strategy before taking their turn to compete.
Although their machines are smaller than those built for the FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST Tech Challenge team members design, build, and program a robot to take on tasks – in competition and cooperation with robots from other teams.
“This year’s challenges include stacking plastic crates, picking up a racquet balls, and securing a bowling ball and moving it into scoring position,” reported Swider.
Competitors and their supporters watch as robots take off on their own – in “autonomous mode”.
In each challenge, the robots built by four teams were placed in the competition area, and were expected be self-operating – programmed to run autonomously – before having steering and operating control turned over to drivers using wireless remote controls.
Helping set up a robot was Chris Lord, an Montavilla resident who attends Benson High School. As his team checked the circuitry, he said he was the “driving coach” of FTC Team 187 – just one of the teams at the school.
The drivers for Benson High FTC Team 187, Chris Halverson and Vic Biggs, maneuver their robot at the OMSI competition.
“The best part about being in FIRST is, at the beginning of the season, it’s like watching what starts as a cloud of ideas take form and shape, and turn into something that works and moves,” Lord said. “We learn engineering, mechanical design, and programming – and have fun doing it.”
The buzzer sounded, balls went flying around the competition arena, and the robots were off. Clearly, these students were enjoying this part of their education.
© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News