Panther Prowl: FIRST Robotics at Florida Tech

I don’t know about you, but my passion for robotics has always been with me ever since I was little when I would help my dad fix electronics around the house. However, I didn’t really get the chance to explore my passion in high school, partly due to my school’s lack of funding for extracurricular activities.

Many high schools have the privilege of doing FIRST Robotics. For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics, or FIRST Robotics, is a non-profit organization that encourages high school students to develop, design and create robots that can accomplish various goals. Florida Tech holds an annual competition, also known as Panther Prowl, to inspire and excite students to get involved and become a part of the engineering world.

Florida Tech Panther ProwlThis year’s competition was called Ultimate Ascent. The point of this challenge was to create robots that can pick up or receive Frisbees, then launch, throw or toss them into raised goals. Each alliance, red vs blue, consisted of three teams from three different schools that worked together. The competition began with a 15-second period that allowed the robots to track the reflective tape on the Frisbee goals so they could shoot and score points. After the 15 seconds, teams controlled their robots to gather and shoot more Frisbees. The higher the goal, the more points the teams received. In the middle of the fields were two metal pyramids the robots could clear for more bonus points.Florida Tech Panther Prowl

I decided to go and see the competition for a few hours to figure out what FIRST Robotics competitions are all about. As soon as I entered the Clemente Center, I was ridiculously overwhelmed. There were about 30 teams of 20-50 high school students. The place was absolutely packed and bubbling over with energy. There was loud music and tons of cheering from all of the teams. After taking in the environment, I watched a few of the preliminary round battles between alliances.

I was absolutely floored by some of the robots. The creativity and difference in design from school to school was incredible. There were really tall robots, skinny and wide-set robots, pink robots, orange robots—robots everywhere! It was so cool to observe all the hard work these kids put into their robots. One of my favorite robots in the competition was one that had two robotic mechanical hands that rotated around the center of the robot’s body and clung to the bars of the metal pyramid to climb it. It would sort of “tumble upwards.” What made the event more impressive was that it was all student-planned and run. That, to me, is a huge accomplishment.

If you are ever in town or at Florida Tech when the next competition comes around, I strongly suggest you go and watch. It really is amazing to see kids so driven and motivated to create and develop cool technology. Even if it is Frisbee throwing robots!


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