Robots and Teens Invade Atlanta for FIRST Championship

The Ginger Man and Optimus Prime were among those escorting the robots onto the floor at the FIRST World Championship Friday. (Bonnie Heath/Atlanta Event Photography)

Often the exclusive domain of jocks and sports fans, Atlanta's Georgia Dome is currently hosting an event so enthusiastically geeky, so unabashedly dorky, that I sincerely like to think that professional sports teams won't be able to set foot in the space for years out of superstitious dread.

The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) World Championship has arrived. For those of you who didn't read Allison Loudermilk's excellent post about it earlier, the event brings in more than 10,000 students from 28 countries. Oh, and 533 custom-built robots.

FIRST gives its human participants the chance to chat with other robotics fans, as well as learn about various scholarship opportunities. But of course the real reason they've made the journey is to test robot against robot in three games of skill.

Getting to the venue, however, was a very nearly unautomated thing for my photographer wife and me. First, our GPS proved to be surprisingly anti-robot by directing us through a series of side roads that terminated in apocalyptic-looking dead ends and concrete cul-de-sacs.

Then, further entrenching my own antihuman sentiments and pro-robot bias, security and organization personnel sent us to no fewer than five different locations before we reached the media check-in. Luckily, we were able to slip in just in time for the 8 a.m. parade -- for which the staff issued us safety glasses. Presumably, there's always a chance that machines will rise up to kill all humans at a moment's notice, so safety first!

Once we'd actually made it down to the floor of the Georgia Dome, however, we were greeted with quite a spectacle. As the photos illustrate, each robotics team ushered their custom-built bots around the arena to the cadence of a live marching band. Brightly colored mascots followed in their wake, and attire ranged from team T-shirts and wizard hats to bright-green alien costumes. Family members, teachers and volunteers cheered the teens on from the stands in anticipation of the competitions to follow.

The atmosphere was easily on par with any high school playoff, coupled with the kind of proud geekdom normally reserved for comic book and sci-fi conventions. It's great that we're encouraging them and promoting such science love fests. After all, many of these kids are the future of the tech industry.

As for the robots, who knows? After the inevitable machine uprising, maybe we'll all be answering to one of the bots created by Exploding Bacon 4-H robotics team.

Allison is headed over to the pits on Saturday to check out some of the finals, so be sure to check the ScienceStuff blog this weekend!

While the humans proved quite enthusiastic during the parade, the robots themselves had to be pushed. Maybe they were saving themselves for the challenges ahead? (Bonnie Heath/Atlanta Event Photography)
The floor of the Georgia Dome is divided up into six robotic arenas. (Bonnie Heath/Atlanta Event Photography)
Tanner Smith helps prepare the Suwannee, Ga., RoboLions bot for competition. (Bonnie Heath/Atlanta Event Photography)
A quick peek behind the driver station for one of the robots participating in the Lunacy ball game. (Bonnie Heath/Atlanta Event Photography)

Kill all humans at How FIRST Works How Robots Work How Robot Armies Will Work Will robots get married?

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.