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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – High-energy kids with big dreams are packing America’s Center, the Edward Jones Dome, and Union Station this week to participate in the FIRST Robotics Championship. The 20,000 young people, grades three through 12, come from 43 nations with their student-built robots. They will be competing through Saturday afternoon.

The competition is designed to foster student interest in STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and math) as well as the ability to work on a team. Teams work with adult sponsors, ranging from universities to corporations. Students compete at four levels, beginning with Lego robots for the youngest. Among the competitors are student teams from China and Israel.

“It gives them the fundamental tools to pursue their life passions in medicine, in science basic research, in engineering technology in all sorts of things to help make the world a better place,” said FIRST Robotics Program Manager Toby Clarke.

At the most advanced level, student teams designed robots to scoop up and shoot foam balls at a castle tower while also facing obstacles and trying to fend off defensive moves by the opposing side. In each match, three team robots work together against three other team robots.

Aidan Uvanni of the Utica, New York Regional Team said his team starts students with no technical experience as apprentices and work with them over the summer.

“Some of the things you are going to be learning are aided design; you’re going to be doing programing, you’re going to be doing mechanical work building the robot,” Uvanni said.

Students also must demonstrate management and communication skills as well as the ability to write. Each team received the same electrical components and standard side bumpers. In six weeks they built their own computer controlled 120 pound robot to meet the same challenge.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a 26-year-old not-for-profit that relies on volunteers, mentors, coaches and sponsors to help the teams reach their goals.

Approximately 40,000 visitors, including the students, will spend four to five days in St. Louis for the competitions. All events are open to the public at the America’s Center, Dome and Union Station.