Fifteen Rutland area high school students are heading to St. Louis this week for the world series of high school robotics.
Stafford Technical Center’s Ibots will be one of 900 teams from 39 countries taking part in the four-day FIRST Robotics championship that includes competitive leagues in various age groups.
You might think a contest involving robots would be dull – and okay, we'll say it, geeky. But think again.
At the various district and regional events there are often thousands of spectators hooting and hollering as robots compete on an enclosed playing field 54 feet long and 26 feet wide.
The matches start with a 3-2-1 countdown and Kentucky Derby style trumpet fanfare. Once the robots spring into action, announcers provide animated play-by-play.
Dan Roswell is lead mentor for the Rutland Ibots.
“One of the really great things about FIRST is it’s more of a sport for the mind than it is a boring geeky type of activity," he says.
FIRST, an international high school robotics competition, was created 25 years ago. Roswell says the program was built around two core values: gracious professionalism and cooperation.
Students competing in this event have six weeks to design and build a robot that can maneuver over and around obstacles and get balls into different goals — some high, some low.
Teams form alliances with other schools, sometimes working together, sometimes working against each other.
Roswell says high scores at district and New England events qualified Rutland for its first-ever trip to the world championships.
“When we head to the worlds this week, there’ll be about 40,000 to 50,00 people and it will be crazy,” says Roswell. “People will have mascots, cheer teams, there will be people dancing. It’s huge. It’s a massive giant celebration of STEM.”
STEM stands for science, technology engineering and math, the skills this competition is trying to promote.
Stafford team member Jarrod Lee, an 18-year-old senior, plans to study electrical engineering next year in college. He says learning to design and build robots has been amazing. But being able to put their work up against robots from other high schools takes it to a whole different level.
"Quite honestly, watching the matches, being there first hand — it’s more exciting than the Super Bowl,” says Lee, smiling.
“It’s an incredible, intense experience because the ranks and the qualifying jump around so much' because that’s the way the game is designed,” he explains. “And then to see that all of your hard work has paid off and yours is the second best robot in the entire event. 'Wow, we did awesome.' And it’s such a gratifying experience.”
Lee is hoping for similar success in St Louis. The Ibots will play 10 matches over three days at the world championships.
Their first is at 9 a.m. on Thursday. A livestream of the competition is available here.