FEB. 14, 2011 -- This spring, St. Louis will be invaded by an army of robots.
Relax. They come in peace.
In late April, St. Louis will serve as the host city for the FIRST Championship, a worldwide robotics competition that attracts hundreds of teams of future scientists and engineers from around the globe. The competition will be held at the America's Center Convention Complex in downtown St. Louis from April 28 to 30. The city will host the championships again in 2012 and 2013.
FIRST was formed by famed inventor Dean Kamen as a way to turn young people on to careers in science, technology, engineering and math. The organization develops a range of programs that help students, ages 6 to 18, build problem-solving and teamwork skills in a competitive but fun environment. Teams in four different competition age groups work together to design, build and compete with robots of their own creation under strict rules and time constraints.
While this will be St. Louis' first year hosting the FIRST Championship, the city's involvement with the organization stretches back nearly a decade. St. Louis has hosted FIRST regional competitions for nine years and has hundreds of volunteers involved in its programs. More than 160 local teams are currently involved in FIRST.
The Saint Louis Science Center spearheads the local efforts and assists area teams with mentors, venues and financial support.
St. Louis' selection as the host city for the championship represents a coup for both the Science Center and the region. "The FIRST programs are really closely aligned with our mission of igniting lifelong learning in science and technology, so hosting the championship is really a great opportunity" said Paul Freiling. "It's a big deal for the Science Center and a big deal for St. Louis."
Freiling, who serves as the Science Center's FIRST Robotics coordinator, says that the championship will bring more than 500 robotics teams to the city. Between students, coaches and mentors, the total number of participants is expected to exceed 19,000 people.
The vast majority of teams at the FIRST Championship – some 350 – will be competing in the FIRST Robotics Competition, the most advanced of FIRST's four programs. An additional 100 teams will compete in the intermediate-level FIRST Tech Challenge, while the final 100 teams will represent the FIRST LEGO League whose competitors are in fourth through eighth grades. The Junior FIRST LEGO League – for students in kindergarten through third grades – does not participate in the national championship.
The FIRST Championship is free and open to the public. The event will take place from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, April 28 through Sunday, April 30.
To learn more about the FIRST Championship, visit their website.