This should appear in the next issue of Robot Magazine. FIRST World Championship 2009 By Kenneth Berry "I am confident there is a bright future ahead – I caught a glimpse of it at the FIRST Championship." Dean Kamen–Founder of FIRST It is Spring! And, time for the annual migration of roboticists to Atlanta Georgia, the Georgia Dome and Georgia World Congress Center for the largest robotics competition in the world. This was the 18th annual FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics World Championship. Over ten thousand competitors from three different events representing over 196,000 competitors worldwide descended on the sports arena and conference center. The FIRST Championship event is the culmination of the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), FIRST LEGO League (FLL) and the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC). The 10,000 participants from the different events qualified to attend the championship by winning local and regional tournaments that happened in 28 countries around the world. With so many participants it should not be surprising that an industry is building around the FIRST Competitions. Or perhaps, more aptly, FIRST is moving more toward the robotics industry. This year FIRST istarted a new integrated pipeline of professional products to support the competitors. The products are the same products used by professionals in industry. They include industrial strength software, hardware and design applications. Young competitors entering FIRST in FIRST LEGO League will be introduced to National Instruments software in the LEGO programming. The program is based on Labview, a software used in instrument and robot designs by the likes of NASA. Teams can continue to use the same tools and skills that they learned as young competitors as they move up to the Tech Challenge, and then to the FRC. In FRC they now use the Compact Rio controller, an industrial strength robotics controller to run their robots. By FRC teams program in the full version of Labview. The skills that they learn in the competitions can then be transferred to their university studies and ultimately to the workplace. FIRST also experimented this year with high school district competitions. District competitions mirror high school sports competitions. The hope is that a new district competition model might encourage more teams to participate by providing the excitement of local competitions, and school rivalries that other sports engender. Students can flex their brains as well as their muscles in local competitions. Teams in the state of Michigan experimented with this format this year. Each team in the state of Michigan was given an opportunity to compete in two district competitions, and qualifiers from these district competitions competed against each other in the State Championship. Four of the six teams in the Championship Finals this year were products of Michigan's experiment. FIRST hopes this format will help them reach their goal of having 15% of all high schools in the US participating in FIRST by 2012. FIRST LEGO League World Festival The largest FIRST event is the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) World Festival. This year 137,000, 9-14 year olds participated in FLL. Only a small fraction, 840 competitors on 84 teams, represented them at the Championship. FLL teams build LEGO robots out of the NXT Mindstorms robot platform. FLL teams program their robots to accomplish a number of tasks around a theme. This year's theme was the "Climate Connections." The tasks the teams had to program their robots to accomplish were all related to the Inconvenient Truth of climate change. Some of the tasks were pulling ice cores from an arctic research center, sequestering carbon dioxide, and fortifying levies from imminent floods. The highest possible score for accomplishing all the tasks was 400. The representative teams had to win at one of the 62 Championship Tournaments to qualify to attend the World Festival event. The Championship Tournaments were held around the world. The FLL pits at the championship looked like a world jamboree with flags, food, and costumes from all over the world. Dean's vision of a peaceful gracious competition between nations has come to fruition here as teams from Israel competed along side teams from Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia. This year's competition used the same size field and the same time limit, 2 ½ minutes, as years past. Also, each team had three rounds to make their highest score. This year the robots had to complete more tasks to reach the 400-point perfect score, however. As in years past, there was little room for error for the winners. Three teams scored a perfect 400 score: Team 8004 "Emerotecos" from Vitorio, Brazil Team 8254 "Team Singapore" from Singapore Team 8060 "Giant Panda" from Fuzhou City, Fujian Province, China The best overall team and robot was Team 55 "Da Peeps" from Rankin Elementary School, Swartz Creek, MI. Their robot's name is CHIP, which stands for Children Have Incredible Potential. They won the FLL World Festival Champion's Award. The FIRST Tech Challenge World Championship The FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) is FIRST's newest competition. This was the third year of the Tech Challenge World Championship. One thousand competitors attended this year. The FTC competition was the "Face Off" challenge, in which robots placed hockey pucks in three progressively more difficult goals. The teams compete in alliances. The alliances are made up of three teams who work together to score points. Like in the older, larger FRC competition the alliances are randomly created during the qualifying rounds. The teams with the best records after the qualifying rounds select their alliance partners for the finals. The winning alliance this year was Jr. Bomb Squad from Mountain Home, Arkansas, RoboRaiders from Sandy Springs, Georgia, and Alerta Longhorns from Calgary, Alberta. The FIRST Tech Challenge World Championship Inspire Award, recognizing excellence in robot design and teamwork, went to the all girl team of Einstein's Daughters from San Diego, California. The FIRST Championship The FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), the original competition with the biggest and most complicated robots is the main event of the championships. Over 8,000 students competed on 349 teams in this event. The teams are separated into 4 divisions each year, the Archimedes, Galileo, Curie, and Newton divisions. Each division has over 80 teams competing. Each division is similar in size to a regional event. The winning alliances from each division play the final matches on a central field, the Einstein field. The FRC game this year honored the 40th anniversary of the landing of the first man on the Moon and was appropriately named "Lunacy." The playing field was referred to as the crater, and the playing surface was referred to as regolith, a fine blanket of dust that covers the surface of rocks on the Moon that reduces traction for the astronauts. The regolith was actually simulated by surfacing the playing field with slick plastic and requiring the robots to have slick plastic wheels. The objective of the teams was to load the opponents' trailer with 9" hollow "Orbit Balls." The trailers were attached to the opponents' robots and moved around the field with the robots. The balls are worth different points depending on their color. Moon Rocks and Empty Cells are worth 2 points in a trailer, a Super Cell is worth 15 points. During the first day and a half of the competition the teams competed in randomly chosen alliances of three teams in their division. After the division qualifying rounds, the eight teams with the highest total points were given the opportunity to select their alliance partners to compete in the division championship. The division champions would then compete with the other division champions to determine the overall Champion Alliance. The finals were between the two winning division champions. Although historically the winning teams usually come from the Archimedes and Newton divisions, neither made it to the finals this year. The Curie and the Galileo Champion alliances defeated them in the semi finals. Each of these alliances were composed of seasoned teams. All of the teams in each alliance were regional champions. On the way to the finals all of them had to vanquished former championship teams. The Curie Division champion alliance was composed of all Michigan teams, Team 217, ThunderChickens from Sterling Heights, Michigan; Team 247, Da Bears from Berkley Michigan; Team 68, T3 from Pontiac, Michigan. Representing the Galileo Division were Team 111, WildStang from Schaumburg, Illinois; Team 67, The HOT Team from Milford, Michigan; Team 971, Spartan Robotics from Mountain View, California. No matter the outcome of the finals a Michigan team would be in the winning alliance for the 5th time in 6 years. The finals are a best of three competition. The first alliance to win two rounds becomes the FIRST Robotics Competition Champions. Team 217 the ThunderChickens, who are supported by the engineers who developed the popular Thunderbird car, won their second FRC Championship just last year. They were leading the all Michigan Curie alliance. Team 111 Wildstang named after the mascots of the two high schools that worked together to build their robot, the Wildcats and Mustangs, lead the Galileo alliance. Throughout the elimination rounds the Galileo champions were undefeated. The Curie alliance lost one match for the finals of the Curie Division. During the Michigan district competitions the TunderChickens and The HOT team won as alliance partners every event they attended together. Today they would be rivals. In the first of the Final Rounds the Galileo Alliance continued their winning streak. They only needed to win one more match to be Champions. As they prepared for what could be the decisive match the alliances shock hands in a final gesture of gracious professionalism and returned to their playing positions. When the regolith cleared 2 ½ min. later the Galileo Champions reigned as Champions of the World! According to a comment on Popular Mechanics website, Team 111 Wildstang and Team 67 HOT are the only two teams to have two world championships and be in the FIRST Hall of Fame for winning the Chairman's Award. The Chairman's award is considered the highest honor at the FIRST Competition and is given to the team that best represents a model for other teams to emulate and best embodies the purpose and goals of FIRST. This prestigious award went to Team 236, The Techno Ticks from Old Lyme, Connecticut. $10 million in scholarships were also given out to deserving students who showed potential to become innovative leaders in science, math and technology. After the awards ceremony all the competitors celebrated their success at Olympic park where all the participants had an opportunity to celebrate with food, entertainment and fireworks. And then, finally, came the traditional well deserved, and overdue rest.