ATLANTA — Every day, everywhere, our culture tells kids that the way to fame and fortune is through sports or entertainment. Bright kids, the scientifically inclined, need not apply. Now, one of the country's foremost inventors is trying to turn that message upside down.
Metals clash, gears whir and frenzied spectators bellow as 344 high school teams compete with robots they assembled in the Super Bowl of Smarts.
In the arena that hosted this years NCAA basketball Final Four, this competition is every bit as fierce. This is take-no-prisoners where every minute counts. It's really cutthroat, competitors say, and there are no holds barred.
Eight thousand students were brought to this competition by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway, among numerous other things, who says we as a culture need to celebrate science and technology more than sports and entertainment.
This winter, 10,000 high schools, like Westinghouse in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood, built and then fine-tuned robots from materials provided by major corporations.
"This has sort of given me the key to the door I need to open for the future," says Westinghouse student Jonathan Alarcon.
But dreams take a back seat to competence at the finals, where both male and female competitors take a back seat to no one. Here, they are told to charge hard, but do so graciously.
"You compete like crazy, but you treat your opponents with respect," says MIT professor Woodie Flowers.
The assembled brainiacs treat organizer Kamen like a rock star because he believes that's exactly how the country should treat them.
"What we have to do is have them develop a passion and excitement to excel at things besides bouncing a ball," Kamen says. "You're a winner because of this experience."
After all the hoopla, the kids from Brooklyn went home without a trophy, but hardly losers.
"You go home with more respect, and I'm happy about that," says Westinghouse student Akeem Cummings.
Here, where robots are means to an end and young minds are the true superstars.
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