[Techtaffy Newsdesk]

Dean Kamen was joined by former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and will.i.am, frontman of The Black Eyed Peas, among others, via video, to launch the 21st FIRST Robotics season with the kickoff of a new robotics game called Rebound Rumble.

There was a crowd of some 800 at the Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H., the hometown and headquarters of FIRST, and an estimated 60,000 people around the world joined the Kickoff via live NASA-TV broadcast and webcast.

The 2012 Rebound Rumble robotics game is played between two Alliances of three teams each. Each Alliance competes by trying to score as many of the basketballs in the hoops as possible during the two-minute and 15-second match. Balls scored in higher hoops score teams more points. Team Alliances are awarded bonus points if they are balanced on bridges at the end of the match.

Sponsored by NASA and Needham, Mass.-based PTC, the FIRST Kickoff event is an opportunity for teams competing in the 2012 season to see the new game challenge and rules firsthand. Teams across the nation, and in Canada, Israel, and Mexico, watched the proceedings via NASA-TV broadcast or webcast from 73 Kickoff sites, many of which also offered workshops and a chance to meet other teams.

At the FIRST Kickoff, teams were shown the new Rebound Rumble game playing field and received a kit of parts made up of motors, batteries, a control system, a PC, and a mix of automation components – but no instructions. Working with adult mentors, students have six weeks to design, build, program, and test their robots to meet the season’s engineering challenge.