FIRST robotics gets huge

High school teams from across the Asia Pacific are descending upon the Quaycentre to battle it out at the FIRST Robotics Competition Australian Regionals.

“It’s a competition, but it also teaches students design and engineering skills when they’re building their robots,” explains FIRST Australia director Luan Heimlich.

“They benefit from learning how to work together in teams, and cooperate and solve problems with tangible outcomes.”

This year’s theme is Power Up which finds teams and their robots stuck inside an old-school video arcade game, where they have to use power cubes to defeat the boss.

For the first 15 seconds of each match the robots operate autonomously, following pre-programmed instructions. Then human operators remotely control their robots for the remaining two minutes and fifteen seconds of each bout.

After only a six week preseason in which to build their robots, three-team alliances face off against each other in the two-and-a-half minute matches.

“The whole vibe is both electric and inspiring,” says Karen Taylor-Brown, CEO of Refraction Media and one of this year’s judges. “The teams can hardly contain their excitement when they talk about the experience of building heir robots.
“The number one quality that comes across when you talk to the teams is teamwork. They’ve spent countless hours together after school and in their weekends and couldn’t love it more.”

Getting ahead in STEM

FIRST Australia is an initiative of the FIRST Foundation and Macquarie University, and is presented with the support of Google Australia, Ford Australia and other partners.

Executive Dean of Macquarie’s Faculty of Science and Engineering, Professor Barbara Messerle, says it gives players a valuable insight into what a career in science, technology, engineering, or maths might look like.

“The best scientists and engineers have a passion for their field, and a desire to tackle the global challenges of our times,” she says.

“We’re hoping that by taking part in FIRST Robotics, these students will not only have a lot of fun but realise the kinds of careers they now have the skills to pursue.”

“Future innovations and inventions in Australia will come from students gaining skills in STEM and computer science today,” says Google Australia’s Engineering Community and Outreach Manager, Sally-Ann Williams.

“We support FIRST in Australia to increase participation from students from rural, remote and other under-represented communities, and to help ensure that all students can develop the skills they need for the future.”

FIRST Robotics provides future skills

It’s a sentiment Asia Pacific STEAM Specialist at Ford Australia, Louise Nance, agrees with.

“FIRST Robotics allows students from diverse backgrounds to develop skills that will be critical in the workforce of the future,” she says.

“Ford strongly believes Australia’s future prosperity depends on having a skilled and motivated workforce able to compete and win in the new economy.” – AAP, additional reporting by Heather Catchpole

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FIRST facts

> 2018 marks the 27th season of the FIRST Robotics Competition.

> FIRST stands for ‘For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology’.

> Founded in the US in 1989, FIRST Robotics was brought to Australia in 2006 by Macquarie University. The competition is run by Macquarie with the support of Google Australia, Ford Australia, and other partners – full details at

> Seventy-three teams from across the Asia Pacific are taking part in the two 2018 Australian Regionals: Southern Cross Regional from 11-13 March and South Pacific Regional from 16-18 March 2018.

> They include 51 Australian teams and teams from the United States, Taiwan, China, India, Singapore, Vietnam and Turkey.

> More than 3,000 participants, family, schools, industry supporters and major sponsors will attend the event at Sydney Olympic Park over the course of the two three-day events.

> That includes over 1,000 participants and 500 volunteers.

> There will be 73 robots competing (one from each team) and organisers estimate over 350 batteries will be used in the course of the competition.

Heather Catchpole

Author: Heather Catchpole

Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media. She loves storytelling, Asian food & dogs and has reported on science stories from live volcanoes and fossil digs


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