At FIRST, “Lunacy” Reigns


Agganis Arena is traditionally a haven for Boston University athletes and Division I competition, with loyal Terrier fans filling the stands. The arena played host to a different battle on March 6 and 7  – between high school students and robots, cheered on by the peers from throughout the northeast.

For the fourth consecutive year, Boston University hosted the regional Boston FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition, a self-described “varsity sport of the mind” where teams of high school students design and build robots to compete alongside and against one another. Winners of the two-day competition advance to the FIRST Championship in Atlanta on April 16. Fifty-three teams from six states and one Canadian province competed, including Boston University Academy, which works out of the College of Engineering.

This year’s game, called “Lunacy,” pitted three-team alliances against each other on a 54-foot-by-27-foot rectangular track.  Teams competed to fill opponents’ robots with “orbit balls” – large bouncy balls designated as moon rocks, empty cells or super cells. Robots are autonomous during the first 15 seconds and human-operated for the final two minutes.

Robots equipped with payload trailers begin each match. Human players around the perimeter of the field, equipped with up to 20 orbit balls, attempt to fill the opposing team’s trailers as the robots move around the field. Moon rocks and empty cells in an opponent’s trailer are worth two points. Super cells, worth 15 points, may only be played during the last 20 seconds of a match. Referees determine a winner based on the highest point total of each alliance.

“The environment here is so fun,” said Elizabeth Simpson (CAS’09), a BU Academy team mentor who also competed in FIRST as a high school student. “It’s completely different from sitting in a class and just learning about science. The greatest part is seeing the final product that you actually created.”

The winning trio was Algonquin Regional High School from Northborough, Mass., Berlin (Conn.) High School, and Tewksbury (Mass.) High School, with additional awards given including Creativity, Team Spirit, Quality, and Industrial Design.

“The high school kids do the building,” team advisor and BU Academy physics teacher Gary Garber said, “This was their creation. We were only there for guidance. The goal of this program is to get these kids to feel like they can really accomplish something, and they certainly did that.”

BU Academy’s entry, “Overclocked,” won three matches advanced to the quarterfinals. Despite not advancing to Atlanta, the team said the satisfaction of creating and designing a working robot was well worth the time invested.

“The competition and experience was incredible,” said BU Academy student Jake Magid, who competed in his fourth FIRST competition. “It was great to be able to pull this together, especially after four years. No one on our team sat around. Our design was solid, our robot worked, and everyone on the team played a role in building it.”

The BU Academy entry,
The BU Academy entry,