Is it a competition?

Or is it collaboration?

First Robotics officials call it “the ultimate sport for the mind.”

Payson Center for Success robotics instructor Michael Ellis tried his best to explain the Arizona Western Regionals that students attended April 6 in Phoenix.

“The way it works, its not a one-on-one competition,” he said. “Each time you compete you work with other teams — they call it your alliance. During qualifying matches they rotate. You could be with two teams and then compete with them the next round.”

So it’s a competition, but teams help each other.

“The competition really comes down to the finals when you have your alliance selections. That is when you are working closely with your alliance partners to get to the finals and semi-finals,” he said.

To add to the confusion, each team can take on a different task, such as defense.

“That is what our team did well, being able to defend the scoring system,” said Ellis. “You can push the other robots out of the way. It is a whole other way of competing through defending.”

Teams accumulate points both through their robot and the alliance — so it’s a cooperative competition.

The biggest challenge? Six weeks to conceptualize and build a robot.

First Robotics sends a video that describes the competition, with groups participating from around the world.

“It is exciting. They will release a teaser video (then) the video on a certain date at a certain time,” said Ellis.

He takes his robotics team to Central High School in Phoenix along with teams from around the state to watch the launch video.

Once teams find out the theme of the competition, they take the starter kit First Robotics provides and head home to put together a machine.

“It’s an intense six weeks of building,” said Ellis.

Students dedicate hours to build the robot.

“The kids love it,” he said.

Ellis recruits students in August and the program runs all year long.

Any high school aged student may participate, including home-schooled students.

Ellis hopes more students join as half of his team will graduate this year. But in the spirit of collaboration, he brings back alumni.

“Another big part of First Robotics is to try and encourage teams to pass down their knowledge from generation to generation,” he said. “We have had one of our former students come back and mentor.”

For more information on joining, volunteering or donating to the robotics program, contact Ellis


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I cover the Town of Payson, courts, wildfire, business, families, non-profits, the environment and investigative reporting

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