To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.” — Dean Kamen (FIRST Founder)
FIRST was started over 20 years ago to help students learn about technology and engineering in a new way. FIRST takes the process of building a robot and makes it a fun, competitive sport that does more than just teach technology. The robotics competitions sponsored by FIRST are aimed at broadening the minds of young students and teaching them lifelong skills.
The number of teams in the FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) program has grown over the years from 20 in the original competition to about 3000 currently competing teams. FIRST has expanded its reach and offers STEM programs to various levels of education. It’s Jr. FLL (Junior FIRST LEGO League) program is designed to attract six through nine year old students. FLL (FIRST LEGO League) is FIRST’s middle school program aimed at the nine through fourteen age group which engages young students involved in Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and 4-H as well. Students are challenged to build autonomous robots to complete a season’s challenge from LEGO NXT kits. Since its inauguration in 1999, FLL has grown to well over 16,000 teams and is the largest of FIRST’s robotic programs. The FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge) offers real world robot design and building skills to seventh through twelfth graders. FIRST teams from Hawaii to New York compete with and against each other along with teams from countries such as Mexico, Japan, Canada, Great Britain, Brazil, and Turkey, to name a few and the competition is fierce!
As “The varsity sport of the mind,” FRC combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Under strict rules, limited resources, and time limitations, teams of students from the high school level are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, build and program robots to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors. These students are expected to perform with Gracious Professionalism, a term coined by Woodie Flowers. This means that teams are expected to play fair and help competitors, even at the expense of taking a win for themselves. FIRST programs value collaboration among team members and competitors believing that working together promotes education and innovation. It is as close to “real-world engineering” as a student can get. Volunteer mentors and professionals from many academic fields enhance the experience by lending their time and talents to guide teams through the the process of an intense six week build and teach qualities valued in today’s work force.
FRC involves the production of a 120 pound robot that must complete a specific set of tasks. These tasks are assigned the first Saturday in January at an event called “Kick-Off” with teams from around the world receiving instructions simultaneously via video feed. Teams then have six weeks to design and build a robot in time for competition. Aspects such as business models, marketing, animation, websites, visual arts, mentors, students, safety, imagery, co-opertition, gracious professionalism, and a host of other areas, including innovation and strength of build are evaluated by judging panels in addition to the field competition. Those teams that move through the competitions will make it to the International Championship, considered the Super Bowl of the Mind, where they will compete against teams from around the world. The ultimate winning team will visit the White House and meet with the President of the United States to show off their robot and promote STEM.