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Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Peek Into a FIRST

I've been a tad quiet on the blog due to immersion in the transfer process and the number of visitors we've had in the office during the rolling spring break (this week, it's Massachusetts and Connecticut).  I thought I'd share a peek into an amazing robotics competition called FIRST (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).

I learned about FIRST about ten years ago, when I originally started working with engineering students.  I was hooked from the beginning.  FIRST teams from different high schools collaborate at competitions to accomplish a goal while "playing" against another group of teams.  The "game" is also pretty complex and it changes from year to year.  This year's game was called Rebound Rumble.

I got to go to the Washington, DC FIRST regional a few weeks ago and watch teams from this area (and a couple from pretty far away) compete with robots they built in a span of six weeks with help from sponsors and mentors in the engineering field.  

Teams aren't just judged on how well their robot scores points in the game, they are judged on how well they work with other teams, programming and animation skills, their attention to safety, and their school spirit.

Chantilly High School's mascot was awesome!

The event feels like a massive pep rally.  Teams bring mascots, costumes, and props to use between matches.  The FIRST folks have a DJ playing music during the matches and students sometimes start to dance to the music.  One of the other college folks in our group remarked that it was like a prom, science fair, and sporting event got combined.

Even when the dancing was [supposedly] over, a few couldn't stop...

All the while, the competition is going on.  The robots were supposed to work off of their programming for the first 30 seconds, so everyone held their breath in hopes that all would go according to plan.  After the 30 seconds was up, the teams could jump onto the controls and drive their robots to hopefully score baskets and maybe try to balance one or two robots on the bridges.

Once in a great while, the illusive three-robot-balance would happen and the crowd would cheer...

Check out this video from about the 2:30 mark on:

The rare three-robot-balance happens around the one minute mark in this video:

And then there's the only "stack-and-balance" I've ever seen:

I can't watch that last video without laughing because it's so amazing.

So, there's a little peek into FIRST Robotics. FIRST is for high school students, but we do find ways to mentor younger kids who are interested in robotics (we have a camp for middle school students and have hosted lower level FIRST competitions here, like the Tech Challenge).

Anyone involved in FIRST out there? How did your team do this year?