PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- Mt. Olive High School in Flanders, N.J., played host to an international high-school level robotics competition, March 1-2.

Overall 38 teams participated with 12 being sponsored by Picatinny Arsenal.

Scientists and engineers at Picatinny have volunteered their time to mentor local students in a robotics competition as part of an ongoing effort to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics education to students.

"The Mid-Atlantic First Robotics Challenge competition at Mount Olive provided the students the ability to compete in an high-intensity game with a robot that they built in six weeks applying the skills they are learning in school. This real world application of science and engineering gives the students confidence in pursuing challenging careers as they get ready to graduate high school," said Charlie Patel, Chief, Propulsion Engineering Programs Branch with the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at Picatinny.

The Department of Defense established the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, initiative in an effort to ensure a leadership position in economic growth and technological supremacy.

"The students who participate in the FIRST Robotics Competition are not only building robots; they are building character, self-respect, and relationships with their peers," said Dean Kamen, president of DEKA Research & Development and FIRST Founder, adding, "Winning the game is fun, but the importance of FIRST is that you'll get much more out of it than you put in, and it's going to change the rest of your life."

For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) was founded in 1989 and inspires young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.

"The goal is to change our culture to where science and engineering is 'cool,'" said Patel.

Kamen is best known for having invented the portable dialysis machine, the Segway, and recently the Luke prosthetic arm. Since its establishment the "game" has changed from year to year and the number of teams has continued to grow.

This year's "game," AERIAL ASSIST, is played by two Alliances of three teams each. Alliances compete by trying to score as many balls in goals as possible during a two-minute and 30-second match. Additional points are earned by robots working together to score goals, and by throwing and catching balls over a truss suspended just over five feet above the floor as they move the ball down the field.

In January, teams were introduced to the AERIAL ASSIST challenge and received a kit of parts made up of motors, batteries, a control system, a PC, a mix of automation components -- and only limited instructions. Robots are built in six weeks and typically weigh up to 150 lbs.

The 2014 Robotics competition has an international reach of 2,720 teams consisting of 68,000 high-school students (Grades 9-12).

There will be 54 regional events, four Qualifying Championships and 40 Qualifying (District) Competitions.

The upcoming regional events near Picatinny are in Clifton, NJ on March 15-16, Bridgewater, NJ on March 29-30 and Lehigh University April 10-12. More information can be found at www.midatlanticrobotics.com or www.usfirst.org

The FIRST Robotics Competition Championship will be held n St. Louis, Mo., April 23-26, 2014.