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Video Slashdot Goes to the FIRST Robotics Competition (Video) 41

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) has robot competitions all over the United States. FIRST was founded by inventor Dean Kamen. According to Wikipedia he has said that the FIRST competition is the invention he is most proud of, and he predicts that the 1 million students who have taken part in the contests so far will be responsible for some significant technological advances in years to come. In any case, Robert Rozeboom (samzenpus) was at the Michigan FIRST championship with camcorder in hand, and brought back some great shots of robots at work -- or maybe play. They fired off volleys of Frisbee-like discs, ran into each other, and climbed metal pyramids, either independently or under the control of their human masters. There was a pretty good crowd in the stands, too, to cheer on the robots. Or more likely, to cheer on the robots' human masters, since we're not yet at the point where robot masters invite their robot friends to competitions where they show off their humans.

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Slashdot Goes to the FIRST Robotics Competition (Video)

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  • What we need is to find a way to get high school students involved in these sorts of programs. I would have loved to go to an event like this when I was still in high school, but I didn't know anything about it.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      That's exactly who competes in the FIRST competitions. You should look it up.
    • by ThorGod ( 456163 )

      An FRC team takes many resources. The community and school have to be involved, and they really need a good mentor. I don't mean a teacher or engineer that's just going to do all the work for the team. I mean a volunteer that's willing to devote 20-40 hrs per week to students.

      • by radtea ( 464814 )

        I was an FRC mentor for several years and it was both incredibly demanding and incredibly rewarding. You'll see high-school students go from clueless newbies in their first year with the team to competent, confident and capable young men and women by the time they're done.

        A lot of it is the unplanned activities. One of my favouite memories is teaching a couple of students some vacuum technique for ensuring the pneumatic system was sealed properly. The students are motivated, interested and eager to learn

    • by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @03:21PM (#43464981) Homepage Journal

      FIRST was probably responsible for 90% of my most useful education in highschool. It was that and calculus. Learning by making real things produces far, far better results.

      Learning about torque in a (sadly) typical high-school physics class: memorize formula and plug values into formula for test.
      Learning about torque in FIRST club: use torque calculations through various gear ratios to calculate how fast you can get up a ramp and beat the other robots there. You see the value, because you use the knowledge to make something.

      Normal schooling in the U.S. seems like an attempt to disconnect knowledge from its value.

    • That's the whole point of the program: The high schoolers aren't only involved, they take the lead in organizing the team and working with teachers and volunteering engineers to build and manage their bot.

    • According to the video, there are now more high schools in Michigan with FIRST teams than with hockey teams. Also, be warned. The video contains shots of nerd "dancing." It all looks like great fun.
    • by armanox ( 826486 )

      My High School has a team. Team 007 forever! (Why yes, I was partly involved with the robotics team, and had a lot of friends on it. How did you guess?)

  • by ThorGod ( 456163 ) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @02:47PM (#43464675) Journal

    I was a rookie judge at one of the FRC events this year. The whole experience was inspiring. The teams function much like non-profit organizations with the business of designing robots to achieve that year's challenge. They take in funds and output competent students and competitive robots. It's amazing to see how involved some of their outreach is. Some teams setup mini competitions for their local elementary or middle schools. Not to forget all the electrical, mechanical, software, general, and team skills the students learn along the way.

    • MOD PARENT UP. Half my kingdom for mod points.

    • by k6mfw ( 1182893 ) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @05:05PM (#43466245)

      I second that. Last year, I spent only two hours helping. This year I signed up as an inspector and spent all of Thurs, most of Fri and Sat at San Jose event. It is interesting to see how teams operate. I think most of the action is in the pit area (that's where everything has to come together). Some had all members working on the robot and those not hands-on were working the bench or logistics (getting stuff, watching what other teams do). Then some teams have a few members working but others seem to just "hang out" (hey, adults are like that at many work places). And some teams had the adults doing much of the work (not a good thing, the youngsters should do everything). Adults (mentor and advisors) should be the ones "hanging out." Let the students experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.. It was loud, fast pace, go-go-go... I'm signing up next year.

      Some teams were very well honed in their craft, others such as first time teams were just struggling to get their robots passed inspection, getting systems to work (i.e. frisbee toss), and couple groups barely made it (i.e. cleared their bumpers and submitted their BOM 15 seconds before closing time of 8 pm). I tell ya, this real world stuff can be a real PITA. There was a team had a solenoid jam while waiting in line for upcoming match. Like mad they stayed with it (didn't ***freak out***) and finally fixed the problem. One team had problems with their shooter, and had a match coming up. Another team saw their predicament and gave their time slot for the practice area (you can score points with gratiuous professionalism, FIRST is not winner-take-all like a demolition derby). This team was able to troubleshoot their shooter before the match.

      One team that impressed me is where they changed entire chassis (from primary to alternate robot) on Thursday and finished it time for inspection sign-off. This major change is something most teams would never attempt (not enough time). How they do it? They designed and built entire robot including chassis. When they sought sponsors, they seek money, parts, and materials donations. Some sponsors want to design and build the chassis, students then do the rest. Because all team members intimately knew their hardware, it was not too big to make a major change.

    • by stokessd ( 89903 )

      I judged two years in a row at the local FIRST competition. I don't do it anymore because the awards are an "everybody is a winner" type of event. In the two years I judged, one or two teams were head and shoulders above the other teams, and deserved to clean up. But the judges agonized and spread out the awards to everybody. That does both the winners and losers a disservice and doesn't reflect how life really works. It was an interesting idea, but the lack of awards based on merit sort of soured it f

  • The World Championships start next week in St. Louis, MO. Go Team 1646!
    • by CompMD ( 522020 )

      The school I mentor for had a rough time in the Kansas City Regional, but fixed things up and solved some problems to end up doing well enough at the Razorback regional that they will go to the championships. Go Team 2410!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    But I'm nowhere near first! Anyway, I was involved in this 7 years ago, and speaking from experience I have two things to say:

    1) This is a GREAT program. If you can get started, the experience is a blast and saying "I built robots in highschool" is awesome and helps a lot with future plans.

    2) The general attitude of the program about what students can and can't do needs a desparate revamp. When I was in the program, we went to a "training session" where we were meant to learn from other, more experienced

  • Student on a team (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Chris Denniston ( 2861939 ) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @03:13PM (#43464925)
    I'm a high school senior who has been on the school's robotics team for 2 years and it's really one of the best thing the school has to offer for kids interested in programming and engineering. It's one of the few organized clubs where nerdy kids can come together and talk about stuff they like and actually do something they like. I worked on programming and electronics and it's really the only way I've seen to learn how to build a program with other people correctly, a skill that I believe is going to be incredibly valuable in college and beyond.
    • Re:Student on a team (Score:5, Interesting)

      by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @03:26PM (#43465045) Homepage Journal

      Well as someone who was in FIRST a decade ago, and is now an adult, it was probably the most useful experience of my pre-college life. Your impressions probably aren't far off.

      • Segway was no longer a part of DEKA (Dean Kamen's company) when I worked at Segway, but our head of engineering, Ron Reich, was actively involved in one of the local schools' program, and I must say, it really did seem to make a difference. I admit that, as a SysAdmin, I'm leery of offering my services to FIRST -- I mean, I ain't gonna be the one coding robotic algorithms (except maybe in Ruby). Perhaps I should re-consider... the positive feedback here is making me think that, perhaps, I'm overlooking an

  • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Tuesday April 16, 2013 @03:38PM (#43465203)

    "In any case, Robert Rozeboom (samzenpus) was at the Michigan FIRST championship with camcorder in hand, "

    Thanks for the warning, I almost clicked on the video.

  • FIRST is an amazing opportunity for students to work alongside professionals and learn. One of the key points of the competition is that professionals can build the robots - there is no limitation placed on the engineers. As a result, you get professionally engineered robots that the students have a ton of input into, and they get to see how to make it all into a real product. The great part is that it works for TV broadcasts too. The Michigan State Competition was broadcast: []
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Slashdot, FIRST is something you should be involved in. Sadly, this is probably the most demanding thing that kids do in high school. You get six weeks to solve a hard problem with NO CHANCE OF SUCCESS. I have been at more than one competition where a team showed up with a robot that was non functional or operative in any way. It is very similar to running a startup company, you need about $10,000 for a FIRST season because robots ain't cheap.

    The stuff that kids play with is all real-world and they lear

  • Lots of photos from the NYC regional Here []
  • Quite a nerdfest. Makes the geeky science kids feel good. There is hope for US home-grown STEM. If you read the current congression immigration debate you'd think we have but given up in theis area.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"