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FIRST® Robotics Regional Competition

“Cool Robots, Cool Kids”

Remarks by
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

ECAV Arena
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY

Saturday, March 15, 2014


We are so delighted to welcome FIRST® Robotics to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for the first Tech Valley Regional Competition. And we particularly are honored to host teams from Montreal and Istanbul, another sign of the growth and global influence of this contest.

From the moment that the FIRST Robotics competition was launched in 1992, Rensselaer considered it a fantastic idea—worthy of our whole-hearted support. That first year, we provided coaching and sponsorship to Team 20 from Shenendehowa High School, when it consisted of just two students, and when there were only 28 teams nationwide—in contrast to the over 2700 from around the world today. We have 38 teams in this regional competition alone!

We have most of the 1992 founding team with us: Rensselaer Senior Systems Engineer Larry Ruff, and retired Shenendehowa High teacher Paul Kane, who are volunteering today. We also have students Karl Pfaffenbach and Jeremy Morrison, and, of course, the original robot they built on display outside.

We were supposed to have the full founding team with us, including Rensselaer Professor Emerita Deborah Kaminski, but an injury prevented that. So I would like to extend our thanks and best wishes to Deborah Kaminski—and to all of our volunteers.

We are ready for some thrilling play today from our teams and their robots. We know that there are many facets to succeeding here, including developing an intelligent business plan, and working gracefully together as a team. It is not just about the robot.

However, I do want to assure our contestants that here at Rensselaer, we not only comprehend how cool robots are—we have many of the world’s leading experts making them even cooler.

Since the future of manufacturing—and many other endeavors—clearly is going to be robots and humans working alongside each other, it is important that robots become safer and more responsive. We have a robot at Rensselaer that can be programmed to mimic human gestures. I am just waiting for it to learn how to do the Electric Slide with me!

In fact, we have another robot named Cogito, whose artificial intelligence is so advanced that it can recognize itself in the mirror—and on its own, tell when something is wrong with its appearance, such as a mark that should be removed. In this respect, Cogito may be smarter than some high school students, who must sometimes be told to shower or to brush their hair.

We also are working on more agile and responsive robots that can respond to emergencies—particularly in situations, such as the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan, in which it is too dangerous to send in human workers. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has sponsored a Robotics Challenge intended to encourage the design and programming of robot rescuers, and Rensselaer students are part of Team TROOPER—which, I am proud to say, has qualified for the final round.

It also was a Rensselaer student who wrote key pieces of the computer code for the first human-like robot developed by NASA, which was sent to the International Space Station.

In fact, we consider robotics so important here at Rensselaer, as we strive to answer the great global challenges, that we offer FIRST Scholarships. Indeed, Rensselaer student and FIRST Scholarship awardee Kate Angeliu is here today mentoring a team.

As I am sure Kate could tell our contestants, the things you have learned during “Aerial Assist” will take you to very interesting places—and they may even allow you to change the world.

If you can build these machines in just six weeks, then imagine what you can do in your careers: find new energy sources and mitigate climate change, find ways to provide clear water throughout the world and to feed the growing population of the planet, build more resilient and sustainable cities, or vastly improve human health. In other words, the power to answer the great global challenges is in your hands, heads, and hearts.

But, first—the robots! I wish you all good luck!


Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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