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Teens rev up robots for national competition

Highlights from past robot competitions


(CNN) -- Five hundred teams from around the United States are slated to compete this weekend in one of the largest high school robotics competitions in the United States.

The annual contest, known as FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), is designed to encourage interest in math and science. Students spent weeks building robots from scratch.

"You get to learn a little about everything. You get to learn about computers, building motors, electricity, stuff like that," said 10th grader Michael de Jesus.


Vocational students at Alfred E. Smith High School in the Bronx composed one of the teams.

"I get to try out new things and get to work with the machinery and stuff. I've never experienced that before," said 12th grader Nicole Blake.

"About two weeks ago, we were stressed out, pieces missing. We didn't know what to do . . . but we got together and made it possible," she said.

The kids are supposed to have engineers as mentors.

Students at Alfred E. Smith High School are among one of 500 teams across the U.S. to build robots  

"The fact is we're in a neighborhood where so-called engineering volunteers don't like to come, so we haven't had an engineer show up yet," FIRST instructor Paul Wittmer said.

So the teachers do mentoring here.

"It's been a very, very big growing process for almost all of the students, working with tools, working with each other, problem-solving," Wittmer said.

"For me, it's seeing that students can come together, cooperate, help each other, and begin to look out for the needs of each other in the group."

Smith High School knows the drill. They competed last year. But 900 miles away in Georgia, it's a rookie team. Same parts. Different robot.

Students at Carver High, a vocational school, receive help from engineering majors at nearby Georgia Tech.

Mentors enjoy passing the baton since many of them competed in the first robot competitions when they were in high school.

Students cheer for their finished robot  

"The real great thing about the program is if you have really good mentorship. You go in really knowing nothing like I did. And then you sit and watch and pick up things," said FIRST mentor Otto Chiang.

"I want to create the best invention in the world, so this is going to help me get there, getting exposure to robotics and competition," 9th grader Rickey Taylor said.

Carver's Prowling Panthers are taking their bot to Florida for FIRST's National Competition. The Bronx team made it to regional competition, but unfortunately they will not compete in the national one due to technical problems with their robot.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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