first robots

As you busy yourself this fall raking leaves, sipping cider and experiencing the Great Outdoors, you may want to consider ditching all that outside stuff, plopping down in your La-Z-Boy and flipping on "Gearing Up." The new one-hour documentary premiering right now on public television takes you behind the scenes of the 2008 FIRST robotics competition, serving up a healthy dose of suspense, teenagers and, of course, robots. The FIRST Robotics competition, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is an annual event held in Atlanta in which teams of students are all given an identical kit and challenged to build a robot that can rock some task, such as, say, slam-dunking balls into some nets. "Gearing Up" trails four teams as they're readying their bots for the 2008 regional competitions. The documentary follows Miss Daisy, a bunch of old hands at robot building from Ambler, Pa.; the RoboDoves, a rookie all-girl troupe from Baltimore; the Ratchet Rockers from Wentzville, Mo., and, potentially my favorite, the Rambotics, an all-boys team from a Colorado correctional facility.

I wasn't on the math team in high school. My gray matter stalled out after entering the shadowy territory of trig and calculus. I certainly wasn't a member of the robotics team -- largely because we didn't have one. And let's be honest, I'm not sure I would have a valuable addition. But in 2002, the UberBots were born, and according to the team motto, they "eat kryptonite for breakfast!" Even better, the UberBots, along with many other U.S. and international robotics teams are headed to Atlanta to duke it out at the 2009 FIRST Championship. And we're going to check it out. Here's the scoop, according to the FIRST Web site: Eligible teams compete in short games played by remote-controlled robots. A team of 10 to 20 high-school students and a handful of mentors design and build the bots in six weeks out of a set of common parts, with the students guiding the robots on the field.