Spokane Journal of Business

Robotics League to hold regional tournament on EWU campus

Sixty-four student teams to compete in Cheney

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FIRST Robotics Competition, a Manchester, N.H.-based youth robotics competition program, is seeking to increase its presence here by holding its regional competition at Eastern Washington University next month, says Erin McCallum, the Kent, Wash.-based president of Washington FIRST Robotics. 

The regional competition previously has been held in Portland, Ore. McCallum says FIRST Robotics decided to move regionals to Spokane because of the strength of the science, technology, and manufacturing community here.

“This is a great community to do this kind of competition,” she says. “Spokane really is a hub for Eastern Washington.”

FIRST Robotics is holding 10 district competitions throughout Washington and Oregon, McCallum says, with a total of 152 teams and 4,000 youths competing. Of those, 64 teams will advance to the Pacific Northwest championships at EWU on April 1-4, she says. 

“Out of those 64, 30 teams will advance to the world championships in St. Louis, Mo. At the end of April,” McCallum says. 

A total of 28 teams from Washington and Oregon competed on March 6 at West Valley High School in the district competition, McCallum says. 

“This program is just an amazing program that connects kids ages 6 to 18 to science and technology,” McCallum says. “It’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in action. The robot is the shiny object that excites the kids … and the sport, competitive environment also makes it exciting.”

This year’s theme for the high school teams is “Recycle Rush,” and the teams’ projects focus on new and different ways to recycle and other environmental initiatives, she says. The teams put together a presentation on the theme, and also build and program robots that compete against other team’s robots on an obstacle course. Teams had just six weeks to craft their presentations and to build and program their robots, McCallum says. 

Forrest Hsu, a student at Ballard High School, in Seattle, says that many of the teams use recycled materials for their robots already. 

“We recycle a lot of our components because aluminum is expensive, and the electrical equipment is too,” he says. “We have to work under a budget, so a lot of recycling happens.”

Hsu also says that most of the teams are broken down into subspecialties, such as programming the robots, electrical work, and doing the team’s public relations. 

A number of companies here support the FIRST Robotics program, McCallum says. Spokane-based Avista Corp. and Pearson Packaging Systems, as well as Liberty Lake-based Itron Inc., F5 Networks Inc., and Altek Inc., all have been involved with the program, she says. 

“(Those companies) really have been partners in this program for years,” she says. 

Businesses can help the teams in a few different ways, McCallum says. 

“These companies have helped charitably support teams, and their employees have been involved in mentoring the kids and volunteering (for competitions),” she says. 

Alliance Machine Systems International LLC is another company here that supports FIRST robotics, as the Journal reported in its Feb. 26 issue. Alliance supports the Super Garfields, which is a Junior FIRST Lego League team made up of kids ages 9 to 13. 

McCallum also says the competitions are trying to reach kids in more rural communities.  

“There are technology needs in these small communities, not just in Puget Sound,” she says.  

The program aims to help train kids grow their skills, McCallum says. 

“It’s really about everyone coming together to mentor and train these youth with skills for the future workforce,” she says. “Ultimately, this is leading to the next trained workforce.”

Katie Ross
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Reporter Katie Ross covers manufacturing, hospitality, and government at the Journal of Business. An outdoor enthusiast and snowboard fanatic, Katie is a recent graduate of Gonzaga University.  

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