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West Valley City Journal

The FIRST Tech Challenge: challenge brings the spirt of fun and competition

Apr 03, 2017 11:25AM ● By Bryan Scott

The FIRST Robotics Competition was held at the Maverik Center on March 10 and 11. (Michelle Glover/City Journals)

By Michelle Glover | [email protected]

On March 10 and 11, hand-built robots made by 48 high school teams were “steaming mad” when they competed in this year’s FIRST Robotics Competition. The theme is patterned after the “Steampunk Stylings” of authors like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

School teams, mostly from Utah but from as far away as California and Alberta, Canada, were at the Maverik Center, 3200 S. Decker Lake Dr., for the annual Utah Regional FIRST Robotics Competition. The event was co-sponsored by the University of Utah’s College of Engineering.

The competition had a retro-tech feel in which the students build robots that must lob “fuel cells” (in the form of balls) into a mock steam boiler to build enough fuel to operate a simulated steam-powered airship. Robots also must transport giant gears to the airship to engage the ship’s propellers. Teams score points for each action. Finally, teams then must hoist the robots to their hovering airship to complete the round.

This year’s regional FIRST contest is the culmination of six weeks in which student teams design and order the parts for the robots, then build, program and test the bots.

“Every year this a great opportunity for students to learn about science, technology and engineering in an exciting way that also promotes team building” said University of Utah mechanical engineering associate professor Mark Minor.

Minor is also the event’s chair and co-volunteer coordinator. He said this year’s event would be especially fun with the Steampunk style where many teams will dress up in period costumes and give their robots a cool design.

The energy was high at this competition. Enthusiasm could be seen in the faces of the competitors as well as the volunteers. Chanting, dancing and singing filled the transitions from one team competing to the next.

Some of the awards included the Gracious Professionalism award, the Rookie Inspiration Award, the Industrial Safety Award and the Innovation in Control Award. The Judges Award was given for a team with a positive outlook while steaming through adversity.

FIRST tech challenge aims to build on community resources to promote exciting, project-based learning in a team-oriented environment. The widely-accessible robotics program competition is designed to inspire students to explore and pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

With about 10 students and two to three mentors per team, the program tries to ensure that each student can actively participate and benefit from the FIRST experience.

The FIRST Tech Challenge offers the opportunity to be a volunteer for the competition. This challenge creates powerful relationships between the young people who compete and the volunteers and mentors who participate.

Volunteers can mentor or coach a team, judge events, organize and coordinate teams, as well as recruit new teams. FIRST volunteers include community leaders, employees of corporate sponsors, university students and faculty, parents and teachers, and alumni of past FIRST events.

For more information about the FIRST Challenge, visit