Thousands of budding engineers and roboticists from around the world converged in Atlanta's Georgia Dome this past weekend to see whose robot was the best of the best in the 19th annual FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) championship. The tournament's three different robotics competitions were the culmination of months of hard work and commitment for the students and their mentors.

Beach Cities Robotics from Redondo Beach, Calif., The HOT Team from Milford, Mich., and Bobcat Robotics from South Windsor, Conn., formed an alliance that took the top spot among 340 teams in the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). FRC—open to students in grades nine to 12, ages 14 to 18—challenged teams to build robots from a kit of hundreds of parts in six weeks. Those robots then competed in a soccer-like game called Breakaway, where they had to climb obstacles and score goals against opposing teams' robots.

The FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) competition—open to the same age group as the FRC—pitted more than 100 teams against one another to compete in a game called Hot Shot, in which teams' robots earned points by collecting and firing plastic balls into designated goals. Smoke and Mirrors from Lakeland, Fla., Under the Son from Hollywood, Md., and GForce from Aiken, S.C., formed the winning FTC alliance.

The third competition included 84 teams vying for the FIRST Lego League championship. Students in grades four to eight, ages nine to 16, played a game called Smart Move, which called upon them to apply robotics and research to some of today's transportation safety and efficiency problems. The Inventioneers team from Londonderry, N.H., took home first place, while the Get Smart team from Peoria, Ariz., grabbed second and Columbus, Ohio's Cougars team came away with third place.

FIRST posted the full list of winners (including those teams that won special awards for creativity, design and sportsmanship) on its Web site. (pdf) Dean Kamen, an inventor perhaps best know for his Segway personal transporter, founded FIRST in 1989 to inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology.

Simply advancing to Atlanta was a feat for each of the teams, which had to win regional tournaments before moving on to the championship round. Scientific American was on hand at this year's regional FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) championship in New York City. (video)

Image © Scientific American/Larry Greenemeier