FIRST Robotics Competition to Test Student Tech Knowledge

(TNS) – After a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, STEM students from across the state return to Albany this weekend to show what their robots can do.

The Procter & Gamble regional competition kicks off at the Albany Civic Center with 10:30 am opening ceremonies on Friday. Thirty teams registered for the competition, and 27 had confirmed as of Wednesday. The FIRST Robotics competition event is one of four regional contests through which teams can qualify for state competition next weekend in Macon.

Friday and Saturday morning will consist of matches to determine the teams that will compete in finals competition beginning at 1 pm Saturday.


Among the hundreds of students participating will be Janessa Robinson of Albany, a member of the Commodore Conyers College & Career Academy (4C) 6916 Commodores.

“In elementary school in my fifth-grade year, we had a robotics team at Lake Park Elementary, and I said, ‘This is interesting,'” said the ninth-grader who recently participated in her first high school meet. “At that time, it was Lego robots. We were basically learning how to solve problems. We’d take a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) problem and solve it.”

Given a cue from 4C CEO Chris Hatcher, Robinson gave the team’s results from the first tournament in which the team participated in Columbus.

“We won!” she said. “I got to do scouting. I love IT (information technology) in general. I also love the Disney company, so I’ve always wanted to be an IT professional.”

P&G has sponsored the Albany tournament each year and has also been a supporter of 4C and other area teams. All of the Dougherty County School System’s elementary, middle and high schools have robotics teams, and other area public and private schools also field teams.

The skills students learn in the process of designing and building machines to sink balls in hoops and problem-solving are those that companies like P&G are looking to foster, said Rob Collins, founder and CEO of the Albany-based NEOS Technologies cybersecurity and IT support company that is the tournament organizer.

“We’re very thankful to have P&G being our title sponsor,” he said, estimating the company’s contributions at about $ 200,000 over the past few years and also identifying other sponsors including the city of Albany, Dougherty County, M&M Mars, Phoebe Putney Health System and local technology companies. “We have quite a few organizations that see a value in what they are learning.”

With the students getting a background in robotics in elementary school, Collins likened the progression to that of student athletes who move up to the next level and improve the program with the experience they bring. That progression is evident through a local elementary school’s win at a 2022 event and area teams becoming competitive with those in the Atlanta metro area.

“We do think of it as a sport, but we also think of it as an academic exercise,” he said. “So it’s a sport of the mind. This is really good for our community, and it’s great we have so many people getting involved and seeing the positive benefits of it.”

Competing in the FIRST Robotics series can cost about $ 30,000, from the $ 5,000 or $ 6,000 for parts, for a team that wins at the state level advances to the FIRST Championship international tournament in Houston, including travel costs, Collins said. Having a tournament in Albany allows area teams to save on some of those travel costs.

Putting on the tournament requires a large number of volunteers and officials, including six referees, judges who will decide winners in 15 categories not related to playing on the field and a safety team to check robots.

“There will be 12 to 15 volunteers with three or four cameras,” Collins said. “It will be live-streamed all over the world. There will be a game announcer who will announce (the matches) like a football game. There will be an emcee.”

© 2022 The Albany Herald, Ga. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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