THIS YEAR’S GAME: RECYCLE RUSH
What is FIRST?
For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) is an interdisciplinary program that emphasizes the spread of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mechanics) in today’s busy world and aims to impart valuable life skills to its participants. The organization was founded in 1989 by inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen; in 1992, the first organized competition was held in a New Hampshire gym with 28 teams in attendance. Today, the FIRST competition is divided into four major branches, which span the entire school experience.
The focus of FIRST as an organization is not only competition and learning about science and technology, but also on ideas such as Coopertition and Gracious Professionalism. The former refers to the ability to cooperating with those you are competing against, while the later refers to an attitude of sportsmanship and professionalism at competition, as well as willingness to help other teams. The program also introduces organization, time management, finances, professionalism, and presentation skills into students’ repertoires.
Students in elementary and middle schools participate in FIRST Lego League (grades 4-8) or Jr. FIRST Lego League (grades K-3). This level of competition brings in engineering aspects similar to those experienced in the high school programs, but on a much smaller scale. Participants use Lego Mindstorms ® pieces to design and build mechanical robots, which, for the older students, are then used to complete various challenges. There is also a highly central research project contained in both programs, in which students tackle issues in their world and produce an innovative solution to those problems. FIRST Technical Challenge (FTC) is aimed at high school students, but doesn’t require as many resources as the larger competition known as FRC. Students are given a time-restrained challenge and must design, program, and build a robot capable of meeting their goals.
FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) also aimed at High School students in grades 9-12. Each year, teams worldwide develop innovative robot designs to compete in competition against over 2,000 other teams. A traditional kick-off begins the robotics season with an introduction to the year’s challenge and reminds teams of the values FIRST upholds in all of its programs. Then begins the build season, in which FRC teams must produce the materials required to construct their 200-lb robot by gathering sponsors, managing a budget, and using safe procedures to construct said robot. During the six-week build period, students enhance their scientific problem-solving skills, while also learning time-management and how to interact with the business world. A six-week competition season follows, in which regional qualifying competitions occur to give teams a chance to compete against their fellows. Teams who win their regional competition or receive equivalent awards advance to the FIRST International Championships, which this year is in St. Louis, Missouri.
How does FRC work?
A typical FRC match consists of three major timed sections. The first fifteen seconds of the match relies on pure code, which is programmed into the robot prior to the match and without external control. The robot must follow pre-determined commands and achieve a part of the mission. Generally, a robot can score more points in “autonomous” period than any other part of the game. As soon as those fifteen seconds are up, students can take control of their robots using external controls, and the game proceeds for another two minutes and fifteen seconds. However, during the last thirty seconds of the game (while the Player-Controlled portion continues), a certain end-game comes into play. Each challenge has a specific end-game, which has nothing to do with the overall theme of the year, which the robots can choose to either complete or ignore. Generous points are given for completion of the end-game, so our team usually aims to compete at a high level in this portion of the yearly challenge. The challenge takes place on an (approximately) 30 x 60 foot playing field, which is divided based on the year’s challenge. The field allows for six robots to participate; these six robots are divided into a Red Alliance and a Blue Alliance, and the match is won by whichever alliance gains the most points in the two minute, thirty second time period. Please see *#(*&% for details on the current year’s game.
What else is involved?
FIRST’s main mission is not to develop an exciting robotics competition, although this is a major part of the program, and one that is accomplished each year with ever-increasing success. Rather, the main message of FIRST involves increasing scientific awareness and interest across the nation, and it relies upon FRC teams to spread that message in their respective communities. Teams are commended for their outreach efforts, and most teams strive to both aid other teams and to serve other members of their communities by passing on their knowledge of and enthusiasm about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Several awards are given to teams who best exemplify these important principles, the most prestigious of which is the Chairman’s Award.
The Chairman’s Award is touted as the most celebrated award FRC offers, and is given to teams who best understand how to engage in impact the world around them, sustain and build their team, create innovative solutions to real-world issues, and spread the message of FIRST. In a highly competitive application process, teams must write an essay, prepare a video, and prepare a short presentation on their outreach and service in their community. At the regional level, a winning Chairman’s team is eligible for Championships, no matter their robot performance.
The Engineering Inspiration Award also qualifies a team for Championships, and judges a team on similar outreach; it too aims to reward teams for spreading scientific and technological awareness in their communities. Many similar awards reward teams for their positive outreach and innovative initiatives to aid others. There are also awards for robot innovation and execution, website quality, safety outreach, and Coopertition and Gracious Professionalism. Individual awards include the FIRST Dean’s List Award, which rewards exemplary FRC students, and the Woodie Flowers Award, which rewards outstanding mentors and coaches.