Audio slideshow: Building bots for sport

Teams of high school engineers compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition, through which students hone their skills in design, engineering, machining, and programming.

Teams from around Northern California gathered this week at the University of California at Davis for the FIRST Robotics Competition, an event in which high school engineers design and build robots that must complete technical tasks throughout the games. (More details after the jump.)

Autoplay: ON Autoplay: OFF

This year's game, called Lunacy, was played on a 27x54-foot field known as the "crater." The contest required robots to perform both autonomously and under the control of a pilot, scoring points against opposing robots. Alliances of three teams were positioned on either end of the playing field, which was covered with a slick polymer material called Regalif which, along with low-traction wheels on the robots, simulates the effect of driving in 1/6th gravity on the surface of the moon. The objective of the game is to get as many of the three types of game pieces--"moon rocks," "empty cells," and "super cells"--into the opposing team's trailers.

FIRST, the nonprofit organizer of the event, was founded in 1989 to inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology. The charity designs accessible, innovative programs it hopes will motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math, while building self confidence, knowledge, and life skills.

In recent years, the games have become more advanced, demanding a higher degree of technicality from the students. The knowledge required to build a competitive bot range from design and engineering skills to machining and programming skills. Some teams, encouraged by FIRST to innovate with their designs, even have complex cameras and tracking systems built into their robots for the first time.

As you'll see in the audio slideshow above, the teams have built some pretty incredible technology for high school students, showing a level of sophistication far beyond the boring days of science fairs and erector sets.