In The News


Robot Games: A Connecticut Championship Of Invention


From left: Finian O'Connor, 15, team mentor Josh Miller and Emma Stark, 15, compete for Team 2168

May 12, 2013|By KELLY GLISTA, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., The Hartford Courant

HARTFORD — Teams cheer, music blares and the points pile up as the energetic emcee gives a play-by-play of the action in the arena.

It's not basketball or soccer. It's the Connecticut State Championship FIRST Robotics Competition, and the players in the arena are robots built by local high school students.


The Connecticut Association of Schools partnered with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) to hold the first statewide robotics competition Saturday in Hartford.

"It's like any athletic state championship," said Jenny Smith, marketing volunteer for the Connecticut branch of FIRST.

David Powers, a senior on the GUS Robotics team from Meriden, said that although the competition was held outside the normal season — the international championship was held last month — there was a lot at stake.

"A lot of pride," he said. "A lot of bragging rights."

About 40 teams competed Saturday, with robots they built over a six-week period. The second floor of the State Armory was transformed into a stadium where the robots — operated by their teenage creators — shot flying discs into multiple goals set at different heights.

Two 10-foot metal pyramids stood in the center of the playing field, and robots were designed for and scored on both their disc shooting ability and how high up the pyramids they could climb.

Powers, whose team was undefeated in the qualifying rounds Saturday morning, said he has been involved with the FIRST programs since age 3. His father helped start GUS Robotics, and Powers said he has developed a passion for machining. He said he will attend Worcester Polytechnic Institute next year to study mechanical engineering.

"There's really nothing like this," Powers said. "It's so different from other sports."

Many local teams have gone from being small clubs to full-fledged school teams, Smith said. The FIRST organization, based in Manchester, N.H., designs programs for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, and the students who participated in Saturday's event were at the varsity level.

"It's not just about the robots competing," Smith said.

Teams work together to use a standard set of parts to meet the challenge of the game, which changes from year to year. They share designs, they trouble-shoot, they raise money, they market themselves to sponsors and, in the process, they develop the tools they need to succeed in life, she said.

Mike Gentry, mentor for the Old Lyme Techno-Ticks, said he got involved with the competitions after his son joined a team. His son graduated, but Gentry stayed on and has been a team mentor for 15 years.

Gentry said the Techno-Ticks motto is, "It's in your blood."

"'It' is the infectious spirit of FIRST," he said.

A not-for-profit organization, FIRST was founded 20 years ago by Dean Kamen, known for inventing the Segway. FIRST's programs give students the opportunity to pursue science, technology and engineering, while also competing in regional and international robotics competitions.

The competition season is from January to mid-summer, Smith said. The event staff is 99 percent volunteers, including local engineers, Ph.D students and FIRST robotics competition alumni.


Eric Eckhardt is one of those volunteers and also the emcee for many FIRST events in the region, including Saturday's. Eckhardt, of Boston, said the best part of the FIRST programs is seeing the kids grow.

"I think this is exactly what we need in America," he said.


 Jacob Kowalski of Team 2168

Jacob feeds the robot 


Emma Stark, 15, with Team 2168

Emma at the controls


Team mentor Josh Miller, left, and Emma Stark, 15, do their team's pre-play routine while their team, 2168

Before the Match

To watch the championship events, go to The NASA website.

One of the 4 fields will be for our Division, "Curie"

Event numbers and approximate times will be published here as they become known.


mystic river pressSuccess in high school robotics competitions requires engineering acumen, preparation and precision.


Then there are times when you just have to go for it.

Fitch High School’s robotics team, the Aluminum Falcons Team 2168, wasn’t getting the control it needed for the mechanism that controlled its robot's Frisbee-shooting arm during last Saturday’s WPI Regional FIRST Robotics Tournament in Worcester, Mass.

The team took a chance and decided to rebuild the arm on the spot, replacing motors, gears, chains with a pneumatic piston, tubes and an air compressor.

“During that time, we missed three of our last four qualification matches,” said Brian Chidley, coach and Fitch science teacher. “We dropped in rank to 10th place, but what we gained was better control of our shooting angle.”

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See also


May 21, 2012

The Fitch Robotics team, the Aluminum Falcons, broke their “semi-final” curse and emerged victorious at the 13th annual BattleCry@WPI robotics competition on Saturday.

The event, hosted by Worcester Polytechnic Institute, has become the most competitive “post-season” robotics event in the region.

"We had a chip on our shoulder going up to Worcester, I have to admit," Coach Brian Chidley said. "We had such a good team this year, and 12 seniors are graduating. This was their robot and they deserved to see it win at an event like this." 

For the past two years, the Aluminum Falcons have persistently been ousted from nearly each major competition in the semi-finals. Earlier this year, their alliance partner in the Connecticut Regional FIRST Robotics Competition “bricked” (failed to move at all) in two of the three semi-final games.

The same fate had hit them in the New York City Regional Competition two weeks earlier, and even though the Falcons had ranked #1 in both of those events. They had to ride home without a trophy.

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April 6, 2012

GROTON – For the second time this year, the Fitch High School robotics team – better known as the Aluminum Falcons – placed first after the 10-game qualifying round of a regional robotics competition. 

Unfortunately, the results of a qualifying competition don’t guarantee that teams advance to the national championships.

Fitch’s three-team alliance was eliminated in the semifinals, the same fate the Falcons suffered two weeks earlier at the New York City FIRST Robotics Regional after also placing first after the qualifying round.

Fitch’s formula for success this season is a combination of the 24 students participating in the program, the quality of engineering support from Electric Boat and increased support from the local community to help offset the costs of the building the robot.

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