Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST Robotics and NH Gov. Chris Sununu, speak during the launch of the New Hampshire Robotics Education Fund at the State House in Concord on Tuesday. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)
CONCORD — The FIRST Robotics Competition has gained worldwide recognition over the years for its ability to deliver on what the acronym suggests, “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.”
Robotics teams in New Hampshire can now get a leg up on the competition thanks to a new grant program in the Department of Education — the New Hampshire Robotics Fund — established with a state appropriation of $375,000 for the first two years.
Manchester-based inventor Dean Kamen, who founded FIRST in 1989, joined Gov. Chris Sununu and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut on Tuesday to promote the fund as the deadline for applications approaches.
They were surrounded by students who’ve participated in the program, and representatives of the many businesses who’ve contributed. Edelblut predicted private businesses would match the state funding at a level of $3 to $5 for every $1 from Concord, expanding access to the program across the state.
Schools can apply for grants to start a robotics team in their school or fund an existing one, which will then have the chance to compete with other teams across the state. The winners move on to regional, national and worldwide championships.
The state grants are designed to pay for everything needed to start a team, from robot kits and tools to tournament registration fees and stipends for team coaches. Sununu said the state funds could only be used for teams in public schools, while the private funds could be made available to non-public school teams.
Qualifying robotics programs are available for all students in grades K-12, but applications must be submitted between Sept. 1 and Sept. 30. Applications are available on the Department of Education website.
Elementary schools are eligible for $1,000 toward materials and $250 toward the teacher stipend, while middle schools are eligible for $1,500 for materials and a $750 stipend. High schools can apply for up to $5,000 in materials and a teacher stipend of $1,500.
A law calling for state contributions to the robotics program was first passed in 2014, but was never funded, according to state Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, who was also on hand for the announcement.
“It’s not just an idea anymore, it’s a reality,” Sununu told the crowd. “We’re going to be able to create a fund that provides robotics teams to every school in the state of New Hampshire.”