CIPCE Director Paul Schoch shared the theme of this year’s competition with a packed house in DCC 308.

The FIRST® Robotics Competition season is now underway, following the kickoff event held on Jan. 7. This year, Rensselaer will once again host the New York Tech Valley Regional competition March 16-18 in the East Campus Athletic Village. Thirty-six teams of high school students from the Capital Region, New York state, South Carolina, Canada, India, and Turkey will participate in the competition.

The kickoff program featured remarks from several guests including Shekhar Garde, dean of the School of Engineering; Kimberly Ireland, community and customer program manager at National Grid; John Prybylowski, director of technology in the Naval Nuclear Laboratory at ‎Bechtel Marine Propulsion Corporation (BMPC); David Torrey, manager the Electrical Machines Laboratory at Global; and Thomas Caulfield, GlobalFoundries Fab 8 senior VP and general manager and chairman of the New York Tech Valley FIRST Executive Advisory Board.

Following the remarks, the full details of the 2017 competition challenge were revealed via a global live broadcast led by inventor and FIRST® Founder Dean Kamen before a crowd of more than 1,000 people at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H., hometown of the FIRST headquarters. This year, more than 83,400 high school students on 3,336 teams at 123 venues around the globe in Australia, Canada, China, Dominican Republic, Israel, Mexico, Turkey, and the United States joined the 2017 Kickoff via Twitch Livestream.

“A lot of kids will tell you, ‘I don’t like science and math.’ But they all love [science fiction]. Well, the only difference between science fiction and science is timing,” said Dean Kamen, president of DEKA Research & Development. “We want kids, through their FIRST experience, to realize that whatever is in their imaginations could become reality if they develop the tools— science, technology, engineering—and apply those tools into innovations to turn today’s science fiction into tomorrow’s science.”

A lot of kids will tell you, ‘I don’t like science and math.’ But they all love [science fiction]. Well, the only difference between science fiction and science is timing.”—Dean Kamen

The 2017 robotics game FIRST STEAMWORKSSM invites two adventure clubs from an era in which technology relied on steam power to prepare their airships for the ultimate long-distance race. Each three-team alliance scores points and prepares to take flight by building steam pressure, gathering materials to start the rotors, and boarding robots onto their airships. The adventurer club with the highest score at the end of the match is the best prepared for the race and wins.

“The FIRST Robotics Competition isn’t just about the robots,” said Paul Schoch, associate professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering and director of the Center for Initiatives in Pre-College Education (CIPCE), who is serving as a co-chair. “The competition is about team management, fund raising, outreach, brainstorming, prototyping, and game strategy, in addition to the technical skills of mechanical design, computer-aided design, programming, electronics, and autonomous and tele-operated control. The competition season culminates in a series of high-energy, sports-like tournaments around the globe that match the excitement and glamour of varsity sport playoff games.”

Schoch also noted that FIRST creates powerful mentoring relationships between students and a broad range of professional mentors, who are working in the fields of engineering, science, management, and manufacturing. “Many of our mentors are from some of the most respected companies in their region, and the experiences and guidance that they offer to students is far beyond what happens in the classroom,” Schoch said. “Students have an opportunity to work closely and learn from these mentors, which can also inspire them to consider future careers in STEM.”

FIRST Robotics Competition New York Tech Valley regional sponsors and volunteers come from some of the most highly regarded organizations, including Bechtel, GE, National Grid, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, GlobalFoundries, ASML, KLA Tencor, M+W Group, Mattson Technology Inc., Turner Construction Company, Lam Research, SCREEN USA, Wonik IPS, Edwards Vacuum, Applied Materials, nfrastructure, and PDF Solutions. Sponsors provide resources including time and talent from professional mentors, services, equipment, financial contributions, and volunteers.

The 2017 FIRST® Championships will be held April 19-22 in Houston, Texas, and also on April 26-29 in St. Louis, Missouri. Participating FIRST Robotics Competition students are also eligible to apply for more than $30 million in scholarships from nearly 200 colleges and universities.