NORTH CHARLESTON - High school science geeks, this could be your Super Bowl for robots.

North Charleston in March will host the FIRST Robotics Competition Palmetto Regional where dozens of high school-aged engineering teams will build working robots.

The competition part comes when the robots are made to perform tasks in front of a panel of judges. A previous year's challenge required students to build a device that could play soccer, including by using an optic censor to find the ball, a "foot" to shoot goals and with the ability to play "defense."

Additional team points could be earned from making the 120-pound robot able to use an arm for climbing by actually leaving the ground through the mechanics of hooking onto a raised bar. There also was an obstacle course set up for the machine to maneuver through.

Supporters say the event is more than just about building a working machine since participants will learn teamwork, time allocation and fundraising.

It is like running "a small and nimble business," Intertech Group president Jonathan Zucker said Thursday in announcing the seventh annual FIRST Robotics Competition Palmetto Regional which will be held March 23-26 at the Charleston Area Convention Center.

Bob Couch, director of career and technical education at the state Department of Education, said the program is a key effort toward preparing South Carolina students for the economics and science of the future. For example, he said there are millions of robots being worked on by students in China every year, while in the United States the number is probably in the thousands.

"What this is about is getting children interested early," he said.

The effort is being supported by a cross-section of educators and business leaders, including The Citadel, the state Department of Education, Bosch and Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, the military communications office on the grounds of the Naval Weapons Station.

Teams interested in taking part will start forming in September with one of the primary goals of raising $6,000 to buy the robot kit. Each team will be given the same materials to build its device, though there is room to modify the robot based on the tasks the teams are told they will have to master.

The specific tasks won't be disclosed until January, giving each team about six weeks to approach the problem and master and build a mechanical response.

Students involved build tools, assemble the instruments and work computer programs. There are about 35 students per team and they can be recruited from several schools in the region.

The competition is expected to attract up to 1,000 local and regional high school students. All the events will be open to the public.

Globally, more than 35,000 high school students participate on more than 1,600 teams in regional events in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, and England. Participants also qualify for more than $12 million in scholarships.

For more information on the competition, rules and contact information, visit the websites: www.palmettopartnersrobotics.com; or www.first.org.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551 or skropf@postandcourier.com.