Frisbee-Throwing, Climbing Robots Take Over Pitt’s Peterson Events Center

Mar 14, 2013

Frisbee-throwing robots are the main event in a competition at Pitt’s Peterson Events Center Friday and Saturday.

The event is part of an effort to get kids excited about science and engineering through robotics.

The FIRST Robotics Pittsburgh Regional Competition is one of 60 regional events around the country. FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is an organization aimed at getting kids interested in the STEM fields. About 1,000 students are participating in this week’s Pittsburgh event.

“It’s a high school age level competition," said Patricia Depra, FIRST Pittsburgh region director. "The students here have formed teams and built robots in six weeks.” 

The robots had to be built to certain specifications and will compete with one another throwing Frisbees into goals at different heights and then climbing a pyramid. Emily Bogert is on a co-ed team from Corry, Pa. and is eager to show off her team’s robot. 

“Oh it’s great – it’s name is Jarvis,” she said as she was working on some finishing touches. “We’re trying to mount this camera so that when we’re on our driver station we can get a better look at what we’re looking at so we can get higher accuracy.”

Bogert said her team of about 15 students logged more than 2,000 hours of work on it. She’s not only enthusiastic about Jarvis, but also about the competition itself.

“Win or lose students always learn from this," Bogert said. "We have kids who have never used a drill before – they helped build a robot!”

The ultimate goal of those competing is making it to the world championship in St. Louis in April. Six teams from this competition will get there. So it is a competition – but not a typical dog-eat-dog one.

“Like, I could be against them and my robot will break, and they will completely, honestly help me fix my robot so we can have a fair match," Bogert said. "It’s called gracious professionalism, where you’re kind to everybody even though you’re still competing.”  

Edward Patterson is a volunteer at the event. He said the process of designing and building a robot and the competition is valuable.

“FIRST Robotics is important because it gives students life skills, not just science and math, which is very important," he said, "but it also teaches them social skills, organization skills, all sorts of skills they can use in their future lives.” 

Forty five teams of high school students from western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia are competing. Thursday was a practice day with testing their robots in the pit and gearing up for the actual matches.

“Think of a large party, like a Mardi Gras surrounding a sporting event," Patterson said. "Most events, what they do when they start the match — they turn the music down — here they turn it up. It is the most crazy, fun thing you’ll see in your life.”

The robots start the competition in auto-mode for about 15 seconds, then students take over the controls. The competitions will take place Friday and Saturday. The matches are free and open to the public.