Over the past 8 years, my wife and I have coached youth robotics teams through the FIRST Robotics programs. This year, the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) team we coach qualified to be one of two teams representing North Carolina at the FIRST Championship in Houston Texas, where the robot they designed, built, and programmed, competed with 79 other robots in their division. They also presented to volunteer judges on their season, design process, and STEM outreach, to compete for judges awards that align with the objectives of FIRST. There were 160 FTC teams total from almost every state, and many countries across the world.
This was an amazing opportunity for our team to make new connections, and actually meet in-person with other teams across the world that they previously only knew through social media connections and Discord conversations.
The real star of the event was a near constant current of what first calls “Gracious Professionalism”. The competition is fierce, the stakes are high, but these students are amazing examples of what it means to do your best, have fun, work hard, and still be respectful, kind, and helpful to those around you. Seeing some recorded messages from the late Dr. Woodie Flowers (https://www.firstinspires.org/about/leadership/dr-woodie-flowers), and hearing Dean Kamen himself speak live about how this program, and these kids, are what the world needs to solve today and tomorrow’s problems, was inspiring. Dean Kamen calls FIRST Robotics “The only sport where every kid can go pro” and these students are going to be amazing leaders in the upcoming decades.
If you have never seen FIRST robotics in action, check out some of the videos that are still available at: https://www.firstchampionship.org/watch
If you want to get involved, you can find nearby teams and events with the search tool at: https://www.firstinspires.org/team-event-search
Teams need mentors in the areas of mechanical design, manufacturing, programming, and business. Events need lots of volunteer support, especially from professionals in STEM to serve as judges.
If you think you might want to start a team, look at:
FLL (FIRST® LEGO® League) – 3 age-level appropriate programs for kids in grades Pre-K-8, ages 4-16. The oldest level FLL Challenge competes with “toaster-sized” robots built out of LEGO & LEGO Technic parts. https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/fll/start-a-team
FTC (FIRST® Tech Challenge): For students in grades 7-12, ages 12-18, competes with “microwave-sized” robots built with a wide variety of kit materials and custom fabricated parts. https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/ftc/start-a-team
FRC (FIRST® Robotics Competition): For students in grades 9-12, ages 14-18, competes with “laundry-machine-sized” robots that use custom fabrication and off-the-shelf parts. https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/frc/start-a-team
If you want to get involved, but aren’t sure where to start, feel free to contact me directly (I’m easy to find on social media) and I’m happy to help you find a way to connect.