Getting technology to do what you want can be challenging. Imagine building a remote-controlled robot in 6 weeks, from pre-defined parts, which can perform various tasks in a competitive environment. That’s the challenge presented to 2,500 teams of students who will be participating in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition.

The worldwide competition, open to students in grades 9-12, kicks off this morning with a NASA-televised event, including pre-recorded opening remarks from Presidents Clinton and G.W. Bush, Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST and inventor of the Segway, and Alex Kipman, General Manager, Hardware Incubation, Xbox.

Last year, several FIRST teams experimented with the Kinect natural user interface capabilities to control their robots. The difference this year is the Kinect hardware and software will be included in the parts kits teams receive to build their robots. Teams will be able to control their robots not only with joy sticks, but gestures and possibly spoken commands.

The first part of the competition is the autonomous period, in which robot can only be controlled by sensor input and commands. This is when the depth and speech capabilities of Kinect will prove extremely useful.

 To help teams understand how to incorporate Kinect technologies into the design of their robot controls for the 2012 competition, workshops are being held around the country. Students will be using C# or C++ to program the drive stations of their robots to recognize and respond to gestures and poses.

In addition, Microsoft Stores across the country are teaming up with FIRST robotics teams to provide Kinect tools, technical support, and assistance.

While winning teams get bragging rights, all participants gain real-world experience by working with professional engineers to build their team’s robot, using sophisticated hardware and software, such as the Kinect for Windows SDK. Team members also gain design, programming, project management, and strategic thinking experience. Last but not least, over $15 million of college scholarships will be awarded throughout the competition.

“The ability to utilize Kinect technologies and capabilities to transform the way people interact with computers already has sparked the imagination of thousands of developers, students, and researchers from around the world,” notes FIRST founder Dean Kamen. “We look forward to seeing how FIRST students utilize Kinect in the design and manipulation of their robots, and are grateful to Microsoft for participating in the competition as well as offering their support and donating thousands of Kinect sensors.”

This morning’s kick-off of the 2012 FIRST Robotics Competition was a highly anticipated day. Approximately 2,500 teams worldwide were given a kit of 600-700 discrete parts including a Kinect sensor and the Kinect for Windows software development kit (SDK), along with the details and rules for this year’s game, Rebound Rumble. Learn how Kinect for Windows will play a role in this year’s game by watching the game animation.

Kinect for Windows team