NJ Teens Compete in FIRST Robotics Competition


NJTechWeekly.com had the opportunity to visit with N.J. teens participating in the FIRST Robotics Competition at the Javitz Center (New York) this past weekend. This year, Ewing, Montvale and Somerville teams competed in the FIRST Robotics Challenge, while teams from Englewood and Bridgewater participated in FIRST Tech Challenge. Several N.J. life sciences and technology companies, among others, sponsored these young people. In total, 66 teams competed.

Two levels of competition took place. In one, called Rebound Rumble, robotic basketball players and defenders played a complicated robotic version of the game, creating their own March Madness, and in another, named Bowled Over!, robots placed racquetballs in crates and then stacked the crates. There was a Lego League team competition for younger children.

The FIRST Challenge– which stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology and is mostly volunteer-run– nurtures the entrepreneurial instincts of teens interested in engineering, project development, math and science. Data Inc. (Montvale) head of marketing George Nikanorov, whose company is one of the competition’s sponsors, points out these teams are essentially startups. “When the teams build a robot for the FIRST Robotics Competition, not only do they go through the cycle of developing the robot, they plan and start a quasi business. They need to market their robot, raise funds and plan their business strategy, ultimately contributing to … building their robot and entering the competition.”

Organizations throughout the state get involved in these competitions because it is an excellent way to promote Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education—which prepares young people to go on to college—throughout N.J. Coordinated with the competition was a college fair, drawing some of the biggest names in universities known for their engineering programs.

NJTechWeekly.com spoke with Montclair State University assistant director of undergraduate admissions Jimmy Luciano, who attended the college fair. He noted that while Montclair State doesn’t have an engineering program, it is interested in good student prospects who might major in science and math. Signaling its increased interest in the tech sector, Montclair State will host the TechLaunch accelerator, expected to start up later this year. NJIT and Stevens were also scheduled to recruit hot prospects at the competition, although representatives weren’t there when we were.

We spoke to a number of enthusiastic young people, several of whom were heading off to college to study engineering, physics or mathematics. For several, building robots ran in the family, with their dads acting as team coaches. Many of the coaches we met were in engineering-related professions. One coach from Immaculata High School (Somerville) said the game changes each year. Teams are given the assignment in January and then work day and night to create the robot that will compete. “The kids put in long hours,” the coach added.

[NJTechWeekly.com first reported that there were no winners from N.J. but we were mistaken. We are delighted to present a corrected list of winners here:]  FIRST Robotics Competition winners:

Entrepreneurship Award sponsored by Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, Team 1676, Dassault Falcon Jet / ShopRite Inserra Supermarkets / jcpenney / BAE Systems / Dimensional Communications / Eisai Inc. / Medco Health Solutions / BMW Group /  A&G; Research & Pascack Valley Regional High School District (Montvale)

Gracious Professionalism Award sponsored by Johnson & Johnson,Team 2016, and the Industrial Safety Award sponsored by Underwriters Laboratories, Johnson & Johnson Consumer and Personal Products Worldwide & Ewing High School and Marie Katzenbach School for the Deaf (Ewing)

Quality Award sponsored by Motorola,Team 1279, Splunk/Bound Brook Moose Lodge#988/RemodelMe/Day Tool & Mfg., Inc. & Immaculata High School (Somerville)

FIRST Tech Challenge winners:
Inspire Award, Team 3415, Livingston Lancers, NJ
Connect Award, Team 3567, Fear the Gear, NJ
Judges Award, Team 207, Critical Mass, NJ
New York Winner, Team 2753, Team Overdrive from New Jersey

There were other rewards for those who participated. Several young people told us they now know how to “think about” making parts or how to approach learning to use new tools. Many were simply delighted to be able to work with new, cutting-edge equipment. Participants were eligible to apply for scholarships from colleges and companies supporting the event. This year, participating colleges offered about $14 million in scholarship money.

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