In 2008, when I heard that the FIRST Robotics Competition was adopting the software and hardware platform I had been working with for years, I was pretty excited. I tracked down a local team and volunteered as a mentor, which in itself was very rewarding. Watching a functioning machine take form in only six weeks was exhilarating, and I admired the dedication and cooperation of the students involved. Travelling with them to regional competitions and watching them struggle through the usual engineering tasks of rebuilding and debugging was an amazing experience too.
It turns out this was only the beginning of my (and Enable Education’s) involvement with FIRST. But, I’ll be telling that story in the next few blog entries (stay tuned).
Well, it got better. While walking around the competition floor, I saw cooperation and collaboration, even among complete strangers from different countries. One team whose robot didn’t ship on time had offers from other teams to help them build an entirely new one from spare parts, so they could still compete. Another team in the LEGO league who accidentally had their wires damaged found themselves with an entirely new set from a nearby group. It was very clear that manufacturing and programming was only part of what they were learning.
We saw parents, cheerleaders, and mascots in the stands, screaming and yelling for their teams. There was loud music and costumes, day-glo hairdos and colourful banners. When we walked through the pits for younger competitors, we were decorated with buttons and necklaces, homemade masks and stickers. This was the kind of excitement and support I thought was reserved for athletes, and not for science and engineering.
We saw competitors as young as 6 or 7. We saw teams from all over the world. We saw girls involved, sometimes entire teams of them. We saw students with learning challenges finding new talents. It seemed like this was an event that was truly welcoming to everyone who was interested.
If you’re not already familiar with FIRST, I’d encourage you to visit their website or watch will i am’s documentary “I am FIRST”. You’ll not only be impressed by the calibre of engineering work being done by competitors, but you’ll feel a little better about human kind in general.
Ben Zimmer is President and Co-Founder of Enable Education. He relishes the idea of robots bringing people together.
FIRST 3 FLL 2 FRC 3 FTC 2 Robotics 4