Palo Alto’s Gunn Robotics Team, seen here in red costumes at the 2008-09 Silicon Valley Regionals, has competed in the FIRST Robotics Competition since 1996. Photo courtesy Gunn Robotics.

Robotics Competition Brings the Bay’s Future Engineers to SJSU

Palo Alto’s Gunn Robotics Team, seen here in red costumes at the 2008-09 Silicon Valley Regionals, has competed in the FIRST Robotics Competition since 1996. Photo courtesy Gunn Robotics.

Palo Alto’s Gunn Robotics Team, seen here in red costumes at the 2008-09 Silicon Valley Regionals, has competed in the FIRST Robotics Competition since 1996. Photo courtesy Gunn Robotics.

By Teresa Ruiz, Web Communications Specialist

More than 50 teams of high school students, their mentors, supporters and volunteers from all over the Bay Area will fill the SJSU Event Center to take part in the For Inspiration and Recognition of and Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics Competition March 31-April 2. The event, which will also draw a handful of teams from other parts of the state, is open to the public and free of charge.

Dubbed by its creators as the “the varsity sport for the mind,” the FIRST Robotics Competition fuses the excitement of a sporting event with science and technology. It gives students the chance to compete against peers internationally while gaining real-world engineering experience. The Event Center will host the Silicon Valley regional competition, where teams from San Jose and surrounding communities such as Palo Alto, Cupertino, Mountain View and Saratoga will represent the South Bay. The competition will give the budding engineers a small taste of college life when they visit the SJSU campus.The best will move on to the state level, then compete for their shot to take center stage at the international championships in April.

“It’s not just about robots,” said FIRST founder Dean Kamen, the entrepreneur known for inventing the Segway scooter. “It’s about building self confidence, respect and important relationships with people who invent new technologies to make a better future.”

Students are challenged to form teams of 15 to 25 peers, think up a theme and work for six weeks to build and program robots that will perform competitive tasks. Students are rewarded points for teamwork, professionalism and the ability to overcome challenges, but the goals of building lasting partnerships and industry connections are emphasized over high scores.

“It’s like life. You never have enough information. You never have enough time. There are always competing things and you must have a strategy. We’ve created a microcosm of the real engineering experience,” said FIRST National Advisor Woodie Flowers.

Now in its 20th year, the FIRST Robotics Competition involves nearly 52,000 students from nine countries including the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel and Germany. Sponsors include Boeing, NASA, JC Penny, General Motors and Rockwell Automation. More than $14 million in scholarships from about 140 sponsors will be offered as part of the event.

Learn more about FIRST, the regional competition or follow all the action leading up to the championships in the FRC blog.