FIRST® is a robotics competition where high-school aged students design and build their robot to tackle a different annual challenge. Over the course of six weeks, teams will brainstorm, prototype, build, and debug their robots before competing at district events across Ontario.
Since 2005, Waterloo has operated one of the premiere robotics competitions in Canada. Teams from around the world have converged at the University of Waterloo, creating one of the most-watched robotics events in FIRST, right in the heart of one of Canada's top engineering schools.
What is the FIRST Robotics Competition?
FIRST releases a game challenge at the beginning of January of every year. The game is played on a field of approximately 27 ft by 54 ft, with two alliances of three robots competing against each other. How these robots interact, what the game pieces that are manipulated and how points are scored is new every year. Each robot on the field is designed by a single team, made up of students in grade 9 through 12. From the time the game challenge is released, the teams have six weeks to design, build and test their robots before they put it in a large bag and send it to competition.
Teams compete in practice and round robin qualification matches. Each match is 2 minutes and 30 seconds. The first 15 seconds the robots are controlled autonomously only using the prewritten code and input of sensors. In the remaining two minutes and 15 seconds, the robot is controlled by a human operator. Qualification matches rank the teams, and the top teams go on to form alliances of three teams to compete in the elimination rounds. The alliance that makes it through the elimination rounds wins the event.
Teams can vary in size, from a dozen people to fifty. Not every student and mentor is focused on the design and construction of the robot. In order for a team to operate they must have funds, so business teams work to find and develop sponsors. The most prestigious award — the Chairman's Award — is in recognition of the outreach that a team has done in the community to spread the word of FIRST and STEM within their community.
Waterloo FIRST Robotics Competition District Event
The University of Waterloo operates the longest-running FIRST Robotics Competition in Canada, with the first competition in 2005. Since then, FIRST has expanded to nine District events in Ontario, with an Ontario Championship that feeds into the World Championships, hosted in Detroit. More than 30 teams attend the Waterloo FIRST Robotics Competition.
The event is split into two areas: the field, where competitions can be watched, and the pits. In the pits, teams are given the opportunity to work on their robot and showcase their robots program. Members of other teams and the public are encouraged to tour the pits for an up-close view of the robots and the opportunity to listen to students talk about their robot, the season they have had, and the outreach the team has done within their community.
The goal of the event is to open students to opportunities they would not otherwise have. It is a sport of the mind, and the atmosphere of the event reflects this. This program offers high school students the opportunity to gain hands on experience with mechanical, electrical, software and mechatronics systems. The skills they gain give them even more opportunities not only higher education, but in the workforce. Even students who do not gain technical experience with the robot gain skills in areas as diverse as finance, statistical analysis, presentation skills, community outreach strategy, and interfacing with sponsors and other businesses within their communities.