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Behind the Scenes at the Youth Robotics Competition of the Year

Students take St. Louis by storm at the 2013 FIRST® Championship event

May 23, 2013

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More than 10,000 aspiring engineers, ages six to 18, recently gathered in St. Louis for some serious competition at the 2013 FIRST Robotics Championships. Teams of students from across the world came, bearing robots they had designed and built themselves. Their goal: to win a prize in a series of challenges that pitted robot against robot… and to have a really good time.

As a lead sponsor of the event, founded by inventor/entrepreneur Dean Kamen, Qualcomm got to join in the fun. Some of the people we met at the event: 

Dean Kamen

Kamen the creator of the Segway and many other devices, hosted the event. He found time to sit down with Qualcomm to talk about “the ultimate invention.” His full interview is available on our Spark digital magazine.

Matt Grob

Qualcomm EVP & CTO Matt Grob, who volunteers as a judge at FIRST competitions, challenged participants at the opening ceremonies to ask themselves, “Do you want to change the world? Solve the great challenges facing our planet? Then you’re doing exactly the right thing by being here today.”

Tesla Tazers

For one team of competitors, the Tesla Tazers, the adventure began with a 26-hour bus ride from their hometown of Twin Falls, Idaho. High school sophomore Tanner Dixon (above left) told us how he uses Robot C to program the team’s 150-pound robot, which took about five weeks to complete. For Tanner, the IR sensors were the hardest to program, especially for the autonomous part of the FTC competition (grades 7-12) where the robots act on their own.

Team Spyder

We also checked in on Team Spyder from Poway, CA. Pictured are Nicole Gonzales (mechanical captain and drive coach) and Karl Sheppelmann (who works on electrical, manufacturing, safety and design) along with coaches Vince Gonzales and Rodger Dohm. With help from 16 sponsors, including Qualcomm, Team Spyder entered its robot (named “For Sale”) in the FRC regionals (ages 14-18) in San Diego, the Inland Empire (in southern California) and Hawaii, winning awards for engineering, safety and design.

Karl, who values the FIRST Competitions as a way to learn different ways of working together, has entered the Future Solder Program and upon graduation is slated to serve as a UAV operator in the U.S. Army.

Nicole’s greatest inspiration is astronaut Jim Lovell, whom she had the chance to speak with at a Society of Test Pilots event in San Diego. Inspired by the successful failure of the Apollo 13 mission, the take-away for this aspiring astronaut is that “even though things may not be the way I want them to be, I can make the best of them.”

Tuxedo Pandas

Deserving praise for creative marketing, the Tuxedo Pandas from Blacksburg and Christiansburg, VA wore bear bonnets and adorned their booth with bamboo shoots. Pictured: Outreach Coach Isabelle Marchand, Ethan Bass, Alexis Marchand, Johnathan Keesee, Adrian Ruvalcaba, Kallista Winters and Head Coach Frank Marchand.

Beating out 120 other Virginia teams to qualify for the nationals, the Pandas won the Inspire Award at the Virginia State FTC competition. One big engineering obstacle for the team was the slide for the robot arm that raises the rings. The initial brass construction was subject to control wire breaks, requiring a trip back to the CAD drawing board.

Holy Cows

Profiled in a March 21 Spark blog, San Diego’s Holy Cows won the coveted Chairman’s Award, which goes to the team “that best represents a model for other teams to emulate.” With five championships to its credit, the Cows are indeed exemplary.

Captured on the main stage just moments after hearing the good news are (above) Team Mentor Cathy Schulz and presenter Jeremy Howe.

Growing Commitment

“It’s really important to inspire students to go into science, technology, engineering and math,” Grob said. “It’s good for the economy. And it’s good for our business, too.”


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Michael Copeland

Sr. Manager, Marketing