EDUCATION

Utah robotics competition returns after COVID hiatus

Apr 8, 2022, 4:10 PM
Photo of the Utah FIRST robotics competition....
Robots pull themselves into the air at the end of a heat during the Utah First Robotics Competition at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Friday, March 6, 2020. Photo credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Regional FIRST Robotics Competition returned Friday for its annual robot design challenge. The competition returns after missing last year because of the pandemic.

“We are so glad to be back in real life! Students and mentors have been hard at work as they’ve put the engineering process to the test from conceptualization to final product,” said FIRST Regional Director Chelsey Short. “The Utah Regional is a major production designed to entertain and engage the community in a celebration of STEM in a sports-like setting with music, food, mascots and random dance parties.”

The competition began Friday and continues into Saturday. The event is located in the main arena of the Maverick Center, located at 3200 S. Decker Lake Drive in West Valley City. It is free and open to the public.

The University of Utah’s College of Engineering co-organized the event.

What is FIRST?

FIRST is an acronym for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.” Its website describes FIRST as a robotics community. Dean Kamen founded the not-for-profit program in New Hampshire in 1989.

FIRST was created in order to “motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills,” according to the program’s website.

FIRST’s original program was the robotics competition. High school students from ninth to twelfth grade can compete in the event.

What happens at a robotics competition?

Utah FIRST said the annual event features “robots designed and built by the teens to perform specific tasks.” It said the competition has a different theme every year and that the nature of the game also changes.

This year’s competition is themed “Rapid React.” 41 teams will have to process cargo for transportation. Students’ robots will have to retrieve cargo and transport it to a hub.

Winners of the regional competition, and select award winners, will move on to FIRST’s national championship, according to the organizers. 

Utah FIRST noted the impact that the program can have on students.

“After joining FIRST Robotics, I’m now really interested in engineering,” said Diana Trifanenkova, a 16-year-old junior and member of Cottonwood’s “Underdogs” team. “That’s when I realized how engineering might be helpful for me and my future, but that it also could help other people as well,” she added.

The event organizers also highlighted Trifanenkova’s team because most of the team members are girls. Four years ago, the team only had one female member.

“The team leaders are all girls and have demonstrated to be ready to lead the way,” said Yuri Perez-Alvarez, the team’s co-coach. “We kept recruiting members for the team . . . inspired by the hard work of the girls.”

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Utah robotics competition returns after COVID hiatus