Thousands of students from around the world have converged in St. Louis for a robotics competition at the Edward Jones Dome and America's Center.

The championships for U.S. FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — are being held in St. Louis for the third straight year.

About 400 teams are in the competition, which began Thursday and runs through Saturday. More than 20,000 teams worldwide sought to qualify, and six St. Louis area teams will also be competing.

Among the students competing are the Rolla Patriots, led by Leigh Ann Tumbrink. The Patriots won first place in the state championship held in February at the Missouri University of Science and Technology.

"We hoped we were going to win, and we were trying as hard as we could," said Aysen Malone, a member of the Rolla Patriots after the February competition. "It was really exciting. It's a pretty nice experience, and I'm still in disbelief."

During the four-day competition, remote-controlled robots will be used to outmaneuver other robots and gain points by shooting discs through goals and scaling a pyramid in the demonstration area.

Segway PT inventor Dean Kamen began these robotics competitions more than 20 years ago as a way to boost science in the way high schools glorify sports.

Only a small percentage of students go on to play professional sports, but "Ninety percent of our robotics kids will go into engineering or science," said Eric Curry, sponsor of the team for O'Fallon Township High School team.

To compete, students have to design, program and build their remote-controlled robots from a kit of metal rods, gears and other elements. The teams have six weeks to build their robots, which then try to outmaneuver one another, gaining points by shooting discs through goals and scaling a pyramid.

"They are given not enough resources, not enough time," said Jeanette Moore, a Boeing engineer and mentor for O'Fallon Township High School's MeTool Brigade. "They are given the same constraints I'm given every day at Boeing."

The matchups will allow the thousands of students participating to demonstrate their knowledge of programming, and electrical and mechanical engineering.

Aaron Faubel, a junior member of the O'Fallon team, said participating in the competition convinced him to become an engineer. "Before I joined robotics last year I didn't know. This experience has been so exhilarating. So exciting."

Paul Hackbarth contributed to this report