The robotics competition drew students from 30 countries.

Even Bill Gates is impressed with the FIRST robotics championship.

What began in 1989 as a small organization to inspire students in high school and younger with an appreciation of science and technology has turned into the three-day event that drew 20,000 people to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta April 15-18.

The Microsoft Corp. chairman’s special video of encouragement and congratulations to the competitors was just a side note to the fervent activities of the competitors ranging from the fourth grade through high school.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) drew teams from 30 countries that competed in one of three categories.

The 340 high school teams in the championship league had a time period of six weeks in which to assemble kits of hundreds of parts to create robots that could climb obstacles and score goals in a special soccer game designed to test the robots’ skills.

More than 100 teams in the same age category participated in another competition in which the robots had to collect and shoot balls into designated goals.

This year also had a league for students in the fourth through eighth grades that had to apply robotics and research to transportation and efficiency programs.

A team from Ambler, Pa., won the chairman’s award, the highest honor given at the event, but many teams from throughout the U.S. and abroad also received awards.

Teams from Australia, Canada, Egypt, Germany, Herzegovena, Israel, Mexico and Spain were among the winners from abroad.

In preparation for the Atlanta activities, more than 200,000 students participated internationally bringing them together with professional engineers in regional competitions.

The regional winners came to the Georgia Dome for the final competitions in an event that the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates generated more than $23 million in business for the city.

For the next three years, however, the final competition is to be held in St. Louis.

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