Students and robots set to compete in steam-powered challenges

Robots and the high school students who created them will take on a series of "steampunk"-style challenges Saturday and Sunday, March 4-5, at South Central High School during the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition for Science and Technology) Robotics Competition. The high-drama event -- open to the public at no charge -- is equal parts tech showcase, sports competition, costume pageant, pep rally and team-building exercise. The 2017 theme is "FIRST Steamworks," a "steampunk"-style mission combining modern technology and the Victorian Era elements of steam-powered machinery.

Two local robotics teams will be participating in the event: Pitt Pirates Robotics and Boneyard Robotics. Pitt Pirates and Boneyard collaborate on lots of projects throughout the year and even share the same building for shop space. A press release about the Pitt County event explains that "student teams of two Alliances with three robots each score as many points as possible by collecting fuel to build steam pressure, installing gears to engage rotors and climbing elevated structures with their robots." The robots, which weigh up to 120 pounds, were designed and built over a six-month period by the participating student teams, who worked with professional mentors. The intense competitions measure the effectiveness of each robot, the power of collaboration and the determination of the students. Participating teams are from Winterville, Windsor, Wilmington, Raleigh, Reidsville, Cary, Swansboro, Charlotte, Southern Pines, Smithfield, Buies Creek, Arapahoe and Durham. They'll vie for district honors and a spot in the FIRST North Carolina State Championship, which will be held April 1-2 at Campbell University in Buies Creek. The competition begins Saturday, March 4, with robot testing and inspection from 8-10:30 a.m., followed by opening ceremonies. Qualifying matches will be held from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. On Sunday, March 5, opening ceremonies will be held at 10 a.m.; qualifying matches from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; playoff matches and finals from 1-4 p.m.; and awards and closing ceremonies at 4:30 p.m. South Central High School is at 570 Forlines Road, Winterville.

It's free to attend the event, but organizers encourage visitors to FIRST is a nonprofit international robotics competition dedicated to inspiring young people’s interest and participation in science and technology.

(Top photo is from North Carolina FIRST of an earlier competition; Bottom photo is the 2017 FIRST Steamworks competition logo)