FIRST Robotics Competition in Sydney, Australia

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( — March 16, 2015) Singapore, Singapore — The Singapore American School Robotics Science class, taught and coached by Meredith White and Bart Millar, is headed Down Under. For the first time, Sydney is hosting a FIRST Robotics Competition regional event, one of 70 such events worldwide in February and March.

In the past two years, the SAS team had to travel to Toronto and Honolulu to get a chance to enter their robot in this premier robotics competition. Now, it is quicker and much less expensive for the team to compete.

FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is the Rolls-Royce of robotics events. FIRST was founded in the early 1990s by Dean Kamen (holder of many patents including the Segway) and several MIT engineering professors. Kamen said “Societies get what they celebrate. Engineers build the world we live in. I want them to be rock stars.” To that end, the competitions are held in large athletic arenas and stadiums.  As colored lights flash and rock music booms out, thousands of visiting team members, parents and supporters scream out their support for their teams. Visiting NASA scientists and engineers in blue jumpsuits act as masters of ceremony.

Each year, an engineering challenge is announced in early January. Students have just 45 days to build a robot that will be shipped to a regional event, where it will meet up to 60 other teams. Failure to meet the irrevocable, non-negotiable deadline means loss of the registration fee and no robot at the contest.

Corporate sponsors are critical to this event, and there are thousands worldwide. FedEx donates free shipping to the regional venues, for robots that are not competing locally. SAS sponsors are Pratt & Whitney and Autodesk, who provide not only money but also critical technical assistance and advice.

The robots are quite large. Powered by 12-volt car batteries, they are up to seven feet tall, weigh 120 pounds and move at speeds up to twenty miles per hour.

At the competition, robots work in rotating teams of three to stack boxes, throw Frisbees or pitch balls into targets. The teams of three change for each of ten rounds. At the end, the top 24 teams compete, again in teams of three, to select a top ‘alliance,’ which will go on to the world championships in St. Louis.

The teams are not evaluated only on the performance of their robot, but also technical interviews with working engineers, technical papers and logbooks, and technical posters detailing the robot and its workings.

Sportsmanship is deeply ingrained in the event. Robots that are broken or have technical problems can request parts or assistance from other teams – even teams they may be competing against in the next round!  Each regional wants to send the strongest alliance to St. Louis, come what may.

The Singapore American School robotics class and club is composed of students in grades nine to 12, and about one-third are girls. Students get the opportunity to directly apply science and math from their classrooms to the real world. They routinely go to the whiteboard to work out electrical and mechanical problems (physics) as well as programming problems (computer science).

In the class, students are trained in CAD, safety, tool use and engineering design process. There are also some less tangible but ‘must-have’ traits needed for success in Robotics Science. Those traits include perseverance, communication and collaboration. Even though twelve Apollo astronauts walked on the moon, it took 400,000 NASA employees and contractors ten years to put them there. Robotics, like the space program, is a team effort.

Past members of the SAS team (founded in early 2012) have gone on to engineering programs at Tufts, Imperial College, Princeton, Georgia Tech and Carnegie-Mellon. When college admissions officers see ‘FRC’ on a student’s application, they are confident that he or she is well-versed in all aspects of STEM education. 



About Singapore American School

Singapore American School (SAS) is an independent, non-profit, coeducational, college preparatory day school offering an American curriculum with an international perspective for students in preschool through grade 12. SAS has the largest Advanced Placement program outside of the United States, is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) in the U.S., and offers the American High School Diploma at the senior level. Established in 1956, the school primarily serves the American and international expatriate communities of Singapore.

Singapore American School

40 Woodlands Street 41,
Singapore, Singapore Singapore S38547