MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – Sixty-six teams of students from nine states and Canada are in Myrtle Beach to battle it out for the top title at the Palmetto Regional FIRST Robotics Competition. "FIRST" stands for "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology."
On Thursday, teams will prepare the robots and practice in the pit. Then the competition will run Friday through Saturday.
This has been a six-week long journey for all the teams, which are made up of students, teacher, and community mentors. Twelve of the 66 teams competing this year are from high schools in Horry and Georgetown counties.
Each year the competition challenge is different. This year, the robots need to bust through as many obstacles and bulwarks as possible to make it to a castle on the other side of the pit. They want to earn points and disable the other teams.
Three teams will face off against three other teams. And no one will know who they are competing against or what that robot can do until each round starts.
"There are two other robots," explained Myrtle Beach High School teacher and robotics team coach, Todd Underwood. "And we have no idea what they do. And every match will be two different robots that do two different things. And so a lot of the strategy is decided in the few minutes before the actual match starts."
Once one round is done, they switch up and face off against other teams. One champion team and one rookie team from this regional competition will then go on to nationals.
"We went for a smarter, faster design, instead of making things super complicated," explained Diana Hernandez. She is a sophomore at Myrtle Beach High School and has been involved in different robotics clubs and competitions for the past four years.
Hernandez said she is more interested in the science aspect of the competition. But planning how to build a robot, program it, and maneuver it helps each teammate build communication skills and learn a little bit of everything.
"Everyone on the team, considering our small size, we all have a part in doing everything," said Hernandez. "So if there's something that needs to be fixed, everyone's on board. And whoever isn't doing anything at the moment, they have to jump onto it."
Their mentor this year is Ken Greer. He worked for Ford Motor Company, and has been a huge asset to the team.
Many of the students on the team have taken classes in physics, mechanical design, and other related fields. But these skills go beyond using a shooting a ball at a target or winning the competition.
"A lot of the things that we do, do apply to apply to real-life things. Like you can build a lot of things out of just knowing how to build a robot," said Hernandez.
Students from past teams at Myrtle Beach High School have gone on to study engineering in college and intern for engineering firms, like Boeing.
The team's coach explained how big firms like General Motors want to invest in students with passion and skill. "They want students to take these skills they've learned in building these robots, to build the next car. And so they're looking for these skills. And there's a lot of money for scholarships that are also tied to this competition," said Underwood.
The Grand Strand Tech Council (GSTC) supports the 12 local teams from Horry and Georgetown counties. "Our overall goal with the Grand Strand Tech Council and working with robotics is to assist the students in learning a skill that can transcend school," said Jason Greene, the president and executive director of the council.
The GSTC provides monetary support and helps find mentors for the different teams. They are always looking for more volunteers and mentors. If you have engineering or mechanical skills or just like working with students, click here for more information on how you can get involved: http://gstechcouncil.org/
The competition is open to the public. Click here for more information: http://www.myrtlebeachfirstrobotics.com/Home.aspx