Thousands roar, support robotics competition in Detroit

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Roars could be heard far outside Cobo Center as teams gathered on the show floor for first-round finals of the FIRST Championship competition on Saturday. 

Nearly 40,000 people filled the bleachers to watch the best of the best robots show off their moves and fight for world titles. 

Garrett Trimble, left, and Joseph Mooney from  Peoria, Illinois prepare their robot for competition at the FIRST Robotics competition at Cobo Center on Saturday.

"This week has been better than expected and we even had more attendance than our world championships in Houston last week," said Mark Giordono, vice president of development for FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). "We're not here in Detroit just because it's an awesome convention center, we're here because it fits into the community, it's history and everything Detroit produces."

For finals, teams are challenged to have their robots to securely transport large yellow cubes onto a large tipping scale. The team that properly stacks the most, wins and moves forward to Ford Field for championship competitions and closing ceremony later Saturday.. 

More than 15,000 students on 700 teams from 37 countries are fighting for bragging rights for the best robot and inventions. A lucky few could even be scouted by industry professionals who are interested in the design.

A team from Kalamazoo, Stryke Force, are defending world champs and have qualified for finals Saturday with their team of 50 students. 

"It's a great competition and I love that it's more than robots," said Paula Clare, a parent mentor for Stryke Force. "It's about working together and doing your best. The kids have been working full time on this since January. We hope to take home the championship this year, of course."

The FIRST Scholarship Program has generated more than $80 million for college scholarships from 200 companies and universities, some of which attended the competition to scout students early on. 

"Think about professional basketball teams that watch players in elementary and middle school, the colleges and companies are doing the same thing here," said Giordono. "We want to get the kids exposed and understand all the opportunities."

Clare's son, Ethan said hearing the crowds cheer for their bot is exciting and he's gotten a lot out of the expos. 

"I've been scouted by a few companies and I'm interested in Dow," said Ethan, 14. "I'm not sure what I want to do yet, but I know it'll be something to do with science."

Detroit is hosting this year for the first time, and will host in 2019 and 2020,

“The teams are all wearing fun costumes and uniforms and have made Cobo their home ... This is going to be a great week,” said Donald Bossi, president of FIRST. “It’s purely about bragging rights and they have to earn their way back next year just like everyone else.”

Finals are taking place Saturday at Cobo Center until 4 p.m., when the championships and closing ceremonies will be at Ford Field until 9 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_