March 08, 2010

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), which offers the nation's only bachelor's degree program in robotics engineering, will host a new regional tournament for the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition on March 12-13, 2010. Approximately 1,000 high school students from across the Northeast will compete with their original robotic creations at the WPI FIRST Regional, which will be held in Harrington Auditorium on the WPI campus. The event is free and open to the public.

FIRST is a non-profit organization founded by inventor and former WPI student Dean Kamen to help high school students discover the excitement of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; and the rewards that a STEM-focused career can bring. Now in its 19th year, FIRST engages more than 45,000 high school students on more than 1,800 teams, who will participate in 43 regional competitions around the globe this year.

In this year's game, called "Breakaway," two alliances of three teams will compete with their robots on a 27-by-54-foot field divided into three zones by "speed bumps," attempting to earn points by scoring soccer balls in goals. Additional bonus points will be earned for each robot suspended in air and not touching the field at the end of the match. The regional and district competitions (and one state championship) will lead up to the 2010 FIRST Championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, April 15-17.

The WPI FIRST Regional Tournament adds to a host of other annual robotics competitions and events that have made WPI a proving ground for hundreds of would-be robotics champions in New England. The competitions include Savage Soccer; RoboNautica, the official FIRST LEGO League state championship that showcases the talents of hundreds of children ages 9-14 from across Massachusetts and the Northeast; and BattleCry@WPI, one of the most popular national off-season tournaments for high schools robotics teams.

Since fall 2007, WPI has offered the nation's only bachelor's degree program in robotics engineering; in 2009, it added a master's program in this emerging field. These programs are designed to prepare a new generation of engineers with the skills and imagination to develop intelligent machines that go beyond today's reality. Last fall, WPI hosted the inaugural Robotics Innovation Competition and Conference, which challenged college students to engineer innovative robotics solutions to real-world problems. On April 10, it will offer the WPI RoboEthics Symposium, which will explore ethical issues surrounding the use of robots.