High-schoolers from California, Illinois and Michigan took the brass ring last weekend in the FIRST (For Inspiration, Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition Championship in Atlanta pitting hundreds of student-made robots against one another in a game fittingly called known as "Lunacy" (a nod to the 40th anniversary of NASA's moon landing). The winning team—actually an alliance of three teams: Huron Valley Schools in Milford, Mich.; Rolling Meadows High School and Wheeling High School in Schaumburg, Ill.; and Mountain View High School in Mountain View, Calif.—outscored their opponents in a contest requiring their robots to pick up and place as many spongy, nine-inch (23-centimeter) game balls as possible in trailers hitched to their opponents' robots.

Each team was given six weeks before the competition to build their robots from identical crates of parts—driver and robot control and wireless communications systems, motors, pneumatic activators for moving arms or shooters, and slick wheels, along with other components. The battles took place on a slippery floor—54- by 27-foot (16.5- by eight-meter)—designed to symbolize the kind of physics challenges engineers faced when they designed the original moon lander. Robots were set to perform autonomously during the first 15 seconds of each match and then operated using remote controls for the remaining two minutes.

ScientificAmerican.com covered last month's regional competition held at New York City's Jacob K. Javits Center, where 66 teams of high school students from the New York City and New Jersey as well as international competitors from the U.K. and Brazil vied for six spots in Atlanta's championship round. Teams from Yonkers, Queens and the Bronx in New York City, as well as Allentown and Bound Brook, N.J., moved on from that preliminary round to the finals.

FIRST, which was founded in 1992 by Dean Kamen (inventor of the two-wheeled Segway transporter), has boosted science and engineering education in schools. According to a 2005 study by Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., FIRST participants are 65 percent more likely to go to college and four times as likely to study engineering as their peers with similar backgrounds in math and science. This year, the program attracted $9.7 million in college scholarships.

Image of the winning teams © FIRST