On Saturday, Jan.7, inventor Dean Kamen's FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) officially began its 2012 competition. The FRC, known to its fans as the “Varsity Sport of the Mind,” gives high school robotics teams across North America six weeks to build a robot. Now in its 21st year, the FRC’s vision is “to transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology heroes” (FIRST). This year there are 2,355 teams with over 80,000 high school participants, including 53 Georgia-based teams, some of whose 1,300 members gathered at Georgia Tech's Ferst Center at the Jan. kickoff event to begin the highly-anticipated competition.
The FIRST Robotics Competition begins each year with a kickoff broadcast from FIRST Foundation headquarters in New Hampshire. This year, it was hosted by Stephen Colbert and included remarks by CEO of Coca-Cola Muhtar Kent, NASA's Chief Administrator Charles Bolden and entertainer will.i.am. It also featured appearances by former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
This year's competition, dubbed Rebound Rumble, is loosely based on basketball, but with eight baskets, three see-saw type bridges and dozens of foam balls. Teams have six weeks to design, build and program human-sized robots to compete in the Peachtree Regional, held in Atlanta, on March 15-17. They also have to create a website, an animation, a computer-aided design and fundraise in order to pay for parts and tools.
“This season is going to be extremely busy, especially for the programming team. There are so many new aspects to the robot this year, including the use of a Microsoft Kinect, which was one of a few parts provided to every team. It'll be fun though, as always,” says Brice Williams, co-captain of Atlanta International School’s FRC Team 1414.
Four teams will then advance to the Nationals in St. Louis where the top three competitors are selected, as is the winner of the coveted Chairman's award, a team that “best represents a model for other teams to emulate and best embodies the purpose and goals of FIRST,” according to the FIRST website. The awards are based on team volunteer work, outreach efforts and community partnership. As a member of Team 1414, I think the award structure encourages teamwork and cooperative learning, which is a major goal of FIRST.
However, the focus for many teams is on more than just building robots. Dean Kamen, FIRST founder and the inventor of the Segway, created FIRST in an effort to increase interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). And teens are getting the message.
“Robotics allows you to apply what you've learned in class to more realistic situations. It shows you that you can solve problems and make changes. It's not another class; it's a group of people who come together to do what they like and are driven by passion and desire to challenge the improbable,” explains Olivia Lodise, co-captain of Team 1414.
Connor Zendt, an alum of Team 1414 who helped with the local kickoff, agrees: “Doing FIRST was the best decision I made in high school. It taught me everything I know about machining and construction, and it's the main reason I'm now studying mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech,” says FIRST also helps to create broader community support for STEM.
This year, Atlanta International School, North Atlanta High School, the Westminster Schools, Tech High School, School of Technology at Carver, Henry W. Grady High School, Team Reboot, 100 Black Men of Atlanta and Future Seekers, Inc. are among the teams organizing from Atlanta. Learn more about the competition and follow the teams’ progress by visiting usfirst.org.
Alex attends Atlanta International School.
Team 1414 (AIS)
Back Row, L to R: Frank Colella, Andrea Pava, Alex Richard, Nickolaus Mitchell, Brandon Lenz, Stephen Burkot, Connor Zendt, Nick Holt, Bradley Leatherwood, John Davenport, Neema Ebrahim-Zadeh and Alan Preis. Front Row, L to R: Alessandro Holzapfel, Luke Smith, Brice Williams, Christopher Ferandel, Maurice Meister and Josh Cohen.