For many people, this time of year brings ‘March Madness,’ the frenzy of tournaments to determine the best college basketball team in the nation, but for thousands of high school students around the world, the ‘madness’ involves robots.

The robots are in their shipping crates en route to their local regionals. It’s probably the first time in six weeks that teams have had a chance for a breather, but is it just the calm before the storm?

Was it enough? Will the robot hold together during competition? Will the robot do what we want it to? How will it stack up against the competition?

Starting on March 1, the battle to determine the best robots begins with FIRST Regional competitions in New Hampshire, Virginia, New Jersey, Oregon and Missouri and continues through March with 32 additional regionals comprising more than 1000 teams. The best from these 37 regionals will be invited to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta to compete for the FIRST championship April 12-14.

How do teams get to be the best? This year, the game ‘Rack and Roll’ mixes engineering skills and strategy with a little fast-thinking math. To score points, robots place different colored inner tubes on a multi-tiered rack system placed in the center of the playing field. After the first tube is placed on a rack, points are multiplied for each successive tube, allowing for an exponential growth in points. The winning team will be the one that best implements its strategy while blocking its opponents. ‘Rack and Roll’ promises to be a fast-paced, high-scoring battle for robotic supremacy.

Once again, NASA is helping contribute to the ‘madness.’ Through the NASA Robotics Alliance Project, located in California’s Silicon Valley, NASA Headquarters and the 10 NASA field centers are sponsoring more than 200 teams and the regional competitions in New Orleans, San Diego, Milwaukee, Las Vegas and Lafayette, Ind. NASA personnel also volunteer their time and expertise as team mentors.

Follow the excitement of the other ‘March Madness’ at the NASA Robotics Alliance Project website and the FIRST Robotics website. Check for webcast and NASA TV opportunities to watch your favorite teams.