MANHASSET, N.Y. Segway inventor Dean Kamen is looking to tap the next generation of students to help develop the "next big thing."
Kamen is organizing his 17th annual First (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics competition that will culminate at the 2008 First Championship April 17-19 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
The competition is geared to help high schoolers age discover the rewards of science, engineering and technology. Over 37,500 high school students on more than 1,500 teams from Brazil, Canada, Chile, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, the U.K. and every state in the U.S. are participating in this year's competition.
Earlier this month, teams were for the first time shown this year's challenge and received a common kit that includes motors, batteries, a control system and a mix of automation components. Students receive no instructions, but work with mentors to design, build and test their robots over six weeks. The teams then participate in regional competitions that measure the effectiveness of each robot, the power of collaboration, and students' determination.
"We celebrate sports and entertainment people as hero figures," said Leo Meire, facilities engineer at chip maker Qimonda and a mentor of Team 384 Robotics at J.R. Tucker High School (Richmond, Va.). "We want to attract future engineers by modeling the competition as a sports event, but for technical knowledge." Qimonda will provide monetary support, use of a machine shop and necessary parts to the high school team.
The Tucker team will enter a regional competition in Richmond. Overall, 41 regional events will be held in the U.S., Canada, Brazil and Israel.
This year's competition requires student teams to design robots that can race around a track knocking down 40-inch inflated trackballs or move them around the track with an overpass. Extra points are awarded for speed.
Since its beginning, the competition has shown results. "I know of one student from the earlier competition who has earned a PhD degree at Virginia Tech," said Meire. He said the competition has significantly improved students' attitudes about math and science while fostering a culture of teamwork, leadership and self-confidence.
Sensors and control ciruits used to drive robots are becoming a topic of growing interest among engineers. At this year's International Solid State Circuits Conference in early February, a panel session will discuss challenges associated with designing sensors used in mission-critical applications such as automobiles, machines, aerospace, medicine and robotics.
The First competition also promotes what organizers call "gracious professionalism,-- where knowledge, competition and empathy are comfortably blended."
Kamen recently challenged product designers and engineers at SolidWorks World 2008 to mentor young robotics competitors. "We need technology professionals to show kids they have more options. They need to help young people discover the excitement and rewards of education and careers in science and technology," he said.
SolidWorks will provide free software to teachers who become First mentors and participate in a summer internship program.