LEWISTON — With the Colisee ice swapped out for robot-friendly floors, the city welcomed nearly 1,000 students, their families and supporters to a weekend of technological competition.

The FIRST Robotics Maine Pine Tree District returned to the Androscoggin Bank Colisee on Friday, the second time the Twin Cities has hosted the event, which combines high-tech with a riotous competition, colorful teams and friendly rivalries.

“This is a very hard-hitting game this year,” said Stephen Martin, co-chairman of the competition. “It’s very defensive this year. You want to keep the other team from scoring.”

Competition this year features 120-pound robots bouncing, kicking and shooting balls into goals, working with teammates and blocking opponents.

The event will continue through Saturday night, with no charge for admission. Spectators are welcome.

“We want people to come out and see what these kids have done,” said Bruce Linton, executive director of New England FIRST.


This weekend’s competition pits 38 high school teams from Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine, all vying for a chance to advance to the regional championship in Boston next week. This will be the final district competition in New England before the regional championship. Regional winners qualify to go to the national championship in St. Louis this summer.

The competition involves teams using their own designed and built radio-controlled robots to complete a task. Most teams have 25 members, mostly high-schoolers, who do the bulk of the designing, building and programming of the robots.

“I think it sort of renews your faith in kids, when you see them here,” Linton said. “These are smart kids. There are a lot of negative things that get written about young people, in general. But when they have a challenge and get supported by mentors, they can do amazing things.”

The robots are programmed to work on their own for the first 15 seconds. After that, members of the team step forward to radio controls and drive their robots remotely.

This year’s task is called Aerial Assist. Teams score points by shooting, bouncing or pushing 2-foot diameter balls into their goal at one end of the 54-foot-long field. They get one point for getting a ball into a ground-level goal on either side of the scoring area and 10 points for tossing the ball into the goal above.

Linton said the aim of this year’s competition is cooperation. Matches include teams of three playing against each other. Teams get bonus points for passing the ball from robot to robot, for tossing the ball over a truss in the middle of the field or for catching a tossed ball.


It also promotes strategy.

“You’ll see, in some of the matches, you’ll see a robot get hot,” Linton said. “They’re calibrated to work best from a certain spot. So as a defensive team, you need to find a way to keep them out of that calibrated sweet spot. It makes defense much more important.”

It’s resulted in fiercer competition this year. Teams can use their robots to block, ram or simply harass their opponents.

“You couldn’t really do that last year,” Martin said. “It changes the feeling of the competition.”

Individual teams amass points throughout the competition. The teams with the best scores at the end win and advance to the next stage.

Other awards include the Rookie All-Stars, the Engineering Excellence and the Chairman’s Award.


For the Jay-based SMART team from Spruce Mountain High School, it’s their final chance to get their ball-throwing robot Vulcan into the Boston regionals. The team has won an Engineering Inspiration award for the design and creation of a robot-lifting system that makes it easier and safer to get robots into and out of the playing area and to do maintenance.

“We’ve already won two awards, Engineering Excellence and Industrial Safety,” said Dan Lemieux, coach of the Spruce Mountain team. “We get to go, but we can’t bring our robot unless we qualify here.”

The Spruce Mountain team is the only Androscoggin County team at the event.

The FIRST competition — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — was created by inventor Dean Kamen in 1989 to promote science and engineering education. Last year, 2,548 teams from around the world competed in FIRST events and competitions.

Local organizers said they’d like to make the Colisee their permanent home.

“We like it,” Martin said. “They are very good, and it works really well for us. Our intention is to always come back here.”


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