Robots set for action Jan. 18 and 19 at Penn State York

First Tech Challenge competitions feature 53 teams of middle and high school students and the game SKYSTONE
Robotics Competition York

The Nittany Lion is right in the middle of the action as high school students prepare their robots for competition during last year's First Tech Challenge (FTC) South Central Pennsylvania Qualifier, held at Penn State York in the Joe and Rosie Ruhl Student Community Center. This year's competition is set for Saturday, Jan. 18, with the Blue and White Qualifier set for Sunday, Jan. 19. The events are free and open to the public, and opening ceremonies are at 11 a.m. each day.

Credit: Barbara Dennis

YORK, Pa. — SKYSTONE by Qualcomm will be the name of the game when 53 teams of middle and high school students participate in the FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge) South Central PA Regional Qualifier robotics competition on Saturday, Jan. 18, and the Blue and White Qualifier on Sunday, Jan. 19, at Penn State York. The competition will take place from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. both days in the Joe and Rosie Ruhl Student Community Center on campus and is free and open to the public. More than 1,000 attendees, including competitors and spectators, are expected during the two days of competition.

Teams registered to compete at Penn State York are from Delaware, New Jersey, New York and throughout Pennsylvania. This is the 10th time the campus has hosted the FTC event but only the second time there has been two days of competition. The event was turned into two separate one-day tournaments last year to accommodate the demand to compete in this region.

The Saturday competition includes 29 teams, with five teams advancing to the Pennsylvania State Championship. The Sunday competition includes 24 teams, with four teams earning the opportunity to advance to the state tournament.

Opening ceremonies are at 11 a.m. each day, followed by competitions throughout the two days. Prior to the ceremony, teams will have an opportunity to get organized, register their robots and prepare for competition. These events are made possible on campus thanks to a generous grant from the Pullo Family Fund.

Visit the South Central Pennsylvania Qualifier for the complete list of participants and those on the waiting list for Saturday.

Check out the Blue and White Qualifier for the complete list of participants and those on the waiting list for Sunday.

The SKYSTONE game, which was first revealed in September 2019, is played in 2:30-minute matches where robots work in teams of two against each other to score the maximum number of points. Scoring is multifaceted and includes robots acquiring "stones," which are 8" x 4" x 6" plastic blocks that interlock when stacked, and placing them onto a moveable foundation. Points are scored for the number of stones teams are able to deliver from a loading zone to the building zone on the 12' x 12' playing field. Game pieces scored during the initial autonomous period of 30 seconds are worth more than the pieces scored during the tele-operated period where drivers and operators control the robots' motions. In the final 30 seconds, or End Game period, robots hurry to stack their final stones, then have to move the foundation holding the stacks, so they can park in the building zone at the end of match time.

Teams play a series of randomly paired matches to earn ranking position during qualifying matches. Elimination rounds are played by alliances that are picked by the top-ranked teams to crown the event champion.

Robotics Competition York1

Robotics will be in action throughout the weekend at Penn State York with 53 teams competing in the game SKYSTONE. More than 1,000 people are expected to be a part of the events over the two-day period.

Credit: Barbara Dennis

Teams are also competing for judged awards for their robot design, programming and team outreach. Many volunteers from the local community participate in judging and helping make the event run smoothly for the more than 500 students coming to York to compete in the competitions.

In addition to the game, teams also present their robot designs, engineering notebooks and summary of their outreach efforts off the field, to compete for judged awards. Professionals from the local community volunteer as judges and other event positions to support the tournament. This is one of numerous tournaments held throughout the state during the season to qualify the top teams to advance to the state championship.

Marshall F. Coyle, associate professor of engineering at Penn State York, is the volunteer coordinator for the event, and is responsible for filling the many positions necessary to make the competition possible. It was his idea to bring the competition to campus 10 years ago. Penn State York students, faculty, staff and business members from the York community work as volunteers during the competition, filling a variety of roles, from judges to field tech advisers, scorekeepers, software inspectors and more.

The acronym FIRST means For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, and the organization was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, an accomplished inventor, who wanted to inspire young people to appreciate science and technology. The FIRST Tech Challenge program is one of the four levels of FIRST, a worldwide robotics competition that engages more than 500,000 students each year. The FIRST Tech Challenge is open to students in grades seven through 12.

Guided by adult coaches and mentors, students develop science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills and practice engineering principles, while realizing the value of hard work, innovation and sharing ideas. Participants have access to tens of millions of dollars in college scholarships.

According to Thomas Zawislak, FIRST FTC affiliate partner, team members are part of an alliance trying to perform tasks on the field with their robots. The event emphasizes gracious professionalism; winning is nice but the design process and participant attitude are the important goals. Teams assist each other and members develop friendships and camaraderie throughout the competition.

Teams are judged on their sportsmanship, performance of their robots, completion of tasks, ability to follow rules, and a variety of other criteria. Following a sports model, teams of middle and high school-aged students are challenged to design, build and program a robot to play a floor game against other teams’ creations.

For information about FIRST, visit

Schedule for both days:

7 a.m.: Volunteers Arrive and Check-in
7:45 a.m.: Teams Arrive and Check-in; Robot and Field Inspection Begins
8:20 a.m.: Judge Interviews Begin
10:30 a.m.: Drivers Meeting On Competition Field
10:45 a.m.: Que First Two Matches
11 a.m.: Opening Ceremonies
11:15 a.m.: Qualification Matches Begin
12:30 p.m.: Lunch
1 p.m.: Qualification Matches Resume
3:15 p.m.: Start Semifinals
4:15 p.m.: Start Finals
5 p.m.: Awards and Closing Ceremonies
5:30 p.m.: Event Complete