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Segway Inventor Brings FIRST Robotics Competition to St. Louis

It may not be the Olympics or even the All-Star Game, but St. Louis will get a chance to bask in the international spotlight for three consecutive Aprils starting in 2011 when the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) finals will come to the Edward Jones Dome.

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Well, OK, it's a very narrow international spotlight. But it's an intense one, sort of like the National Spelling Bee for math and science nerds.

FIRST, which stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, as a way to encourage young people to get involved in math and science. Kamen calls the robotics competition "the varsity sport of the mind."

In the FRC, teams of 25 high-school students create robots to perform prescribed tasks in competition against other robots. They also have to perform the more onerous tasks of creating a team "brand" and raising money, just like grown-up engineers. (Younger kids get to show off their stuff with LEGOs.) FIRST has $11 million in scholarship money to hand out to the winners.

Previously, the FRC finals were held in Atlanta, though St. Louis has hosted regional FIRST events in the past.

The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission (CVC) anticipates the FRC's 15,000 competitors and their families will bring $7 million to the city each year, spokeswoman Donna Andrews told the St. Louis Business Journal.

Kitty Ratcliffe, the CVC's president, is even more ambitious, telling the Business Journal, "To have all those kids here in St. Louis, it gives them a first-hand experience of the city. They might be more inclined to go to college here ... or they might want to come and work and live here in the future."

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