Robot season is upon us and the competition is starting to heat up. If you happen to find a free weekend I recommend that you look up a local competition and check it out. It is amazing how fired up kids can get about robots.
Unfortunately there is no single place to find local competitions but there are a few good places to start looking. I recommend checking with your local high school. You may be surprised to find a thriving robotics program in your own neighborhood. Wikipedia has a great list on their Robot Competition page. Steven Rainwater over at Robots.net also maintains a list of Robot Contests.
The two largest school age competitions are run by FIRST and VEX. Both companies have great resources for finding out about local competitions.
The FIRST Robotics Competition consists of three grade ranges, high school, middle school, and elementary. The youngest students compete in the FIRST LEGO League, or FLL. Their robots are built mostly out of LEGO and the competitions are small enough to run on a tabletop field. The FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) covers middle school students and is played on a 12′ square field. Then there are the high school students with their FRC robots. You can find out more about their programs and schedules at USFirst.org.
VEX is the fastest growing robotics competition in the US. Local events are usually held on a Saturday with 20 to 50 teams competing. You can find out if there are any events in your area on RobotEvents.com and find out about the VEX Robotics System at VEXRobotics.com. There are events already schedules in 41 states and 14 countries so there is a good chance of finding a competition near you.
Also coming up soon is the nationwide showing of Bots High, a documentary about high school combat robotics. I’ve recently seen a screener of the documentary and will have a review of it up in a few days.
So please, check to see if there are any competitions in your area and check them out. Seek out the organizers and offer to volunteer, and if you have kids drag them along. Odds are good that they will enjoy themselves.
In the interest of full disclosure I should say that I work for Innovation First, makers of the VEX Robotics System.