Do the Robot: NVIDIA-Equipped Kids Storm FIRST Robotics Competition

by Will Park

Homeroom. Spring Break. Autonomous robots. They’re all top of mind for the kid roboticists who streamed into the FIRST Robotics Competition in St. Louis, Mo.

Earlier this week, teams of high school students from around the globe flocked to the city that once represented America’s “Gateway to the West.” Each team hoped their homebrewed robots would rise to glory as the world’s most capable kid-built bot.

The Zebracorns in action.
The Zebracorns in action.

Their robots came in all shapes and sizes. But they were united by a singular purpose: to move and stack recycling bins both autonomously and under human control. And a select cadre of teams brought bots equipped with a not-so-secret weapon: our Jetson TK1 DevKit.

Robots faced tough challenges, and tougher competition.
Robots faced tough challenges, and tougher competition.

The Tegra-powered Jetson TK1 DevKit gave these kids impressive capabilities. The DevKit is built around our Tegra K1 processor, whose 192 programmable cores can deliver more than 300 gigaflops of computing power.

This power enabled their bots to take advantage of sophisticated parallel computing, computer vision and deep learning technologies.

Two teams in particular — “Zebracorns” from Durham, N.C., and “Mars Wars” from Metamora, Ill. — aimed to use Jetson to master the competition’s autonomous challenges. The results dazzled the competition’s more than 30,000 spectators.

The video below shows how the Zebracorns exploited the Jetson TK1 DevKit’s real-time computer vision capabilities. You can see them trying to move green recycling bins to their side of the “playing field” — and stop another team from capturing them.

Alas, even the most cutting-edge innovations weren’t enough to stave off mechanical issues. Nor were they enough to ensure perfect strategy. After days of back-to-back matches, both teams were knocked out of the competition.

They’ll be back. And so will more bots equipped with our technologies.