For three days each spring, crowds gather at the Maverick Center in West Valley to watch an event unlike any other. Their interest? Forty-two industrial-grade robots, the product of three months of hard work from High School students around the country (and even the world). An excited hum runs through the crowd, backed by the symphony of power tools in the distance. After an enthusiastic countdown led by an energetic emcee, six robots suddenly spring into autonomous action collecting 9-inch tennis balls, aligning to a target, and shooting their collected cargo into a tiered series of four-foot-wide baskets. Some hopeful human players even attempt a half-court-equivalent basket of their own from the sidelines. After 15 seconds of intense robot calculation and autonomy, the robots suddenly pause at the sound of a bell. Drive teams of two or three rush to grab their controllers and begin to drive the bots themselves. Some robots move towards collecting more cargo; others start to move into a strategically defensive position. Some may even sit still for a moment, working to connect to the computers and controllers of their human counterparts. Adrenaline runs high, excitement mounts, and the competitive pressure builds to astounding heights as gameplay continues for nearly two and a half minutes. Near the end of the match, bots rush to their corresponding sides of the field to begin ascending a series of monkey bars ranging from three to 7 feet off the ground. Some remain around the playing field, attempting to score more points by collecting and shooting cargo. The final buzzer sounds and teams begin to cart the robots off the field. They travel around a large dividing curtain hung from the roof, where rows of reserved workspaces await them. One robot is transported down the middle aisle, ending its journey in a work area in the middle of the row on the left side.
Team members wearing ALC t-shirts begin quick, stressful work on repairing the robot. They had begun construction and planning the robot in January when the non-profit organization FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science & Technology) released details about this year's airplane-themed game sponsored by the Boeing Company. Their task was to build a robot that could implement innovative methods and skills to complete objectives throughout the game.
Students and staff at the ALC may have seen a robot in the ALC's west wing near Eastmond's room performing musical pieces, practicing maneuvers, or just testing different components. Its name is Andre the Giant, and it is the pride and joy of a team of about 18 students representing Nebo School District. Ultimately, this year was very successful for the entire team, and each student was able to learn and progress in extraordinary ways!
The ALC's robotics team provides an opportunity for students of all backgrounds and expertise to experience the thrilling mixture of competitiveness, cooperation, and technology built into the core vision of FIRST. FIRST was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway and Insulin Pump) and Woodie Flowers (former Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT). They believed in creating a sport where any participant could learn skills essential to eventually working in large tech industries. Some of these tech giants even sponsor the events each year: NASA, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Motorola, Qualcomm, Haas, and Boeing are part of more than a hundred sponsors offering funding (and even scholarships) to the three FIRST programs and its thousands of teams.
Students interested in joining the team should navigate to www.team3405.info and click on the "Join Our Team" button at the top of the home page!