The varsity Sport for the Mind, FRC combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Under strict rules, limited resources, and time limits, teams of 25 students or more are challenged to raise funds, design a team "brand," hone teamwork skills, and build and program robots to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors. It's as close to "real-world engineering" as a student can get. Volunteer professional mentors lend their time and talents to guide each team.
Sometimes when we have a live show for a FIRST event, we get so caught up in setting up the studio and lining up our interviews that we don't really get a chance to truly enjoy everything that is going on around us. This year, we arranged for a little extra time before the interviews began. This gave Scott and Daniele an opportunity to discuss this years game as well as look back to previous years. We got the opportunity to speak with some of the student ambassadors about the game and exactly how it worked.
The game maintains many of the elements that we know and love about FIRST Robotics Competition. The driving stations are located where we expect on the short ends of the field. There are the same number of robots on the field, with three robots working together on each of the two teams. There are consistent stages of play, with autonomous, tele-op and the end game. We even see some familiar game elements, like a balance element in autonomous and climbing in the end game.
While the game plays similar to previous games in theory, there are some distinct differences. The biggest difference is the introduction of passive scoring. By controlling the angle of a few large scales around the board, teams can score points every second, while continuing to move around the board. Usually, once you perform an action, you receive points and move on, but not in this game. The scoring mechanisms allow for much higher scoring, but doesn't guarantee it.
Another difference is giving the human players a choice in how they interact. Usually, the players have a particular task to perform, like placing gears in the airships during Steamworks. This year, the players have a choice when receiving the blocks: they can either pass them back into play, or place them into a stack to try and score power ups later in the game. Again, this adds a fascinating dynamic, by creating additional variables for gameplay.
FIRST Robotics Competition Team 6473, Rock Star Robotics, is one of few Boys & Girls Club teams that has made it this long. The team started out in 2010 as a FIRST LEGO League team and has evolved into four current teams: two FIRST LEGO League teams, one FIRST Tech Challenge team, and one FIRST Robotics Competition. At the 2018 FIRST Robotics Competition Orlando Regional, we got the chance to speak with Edwin, the captain of the FIRST Robotics Competition team. As the team captain, he gets to oversee everything that happens within the team, helping as much as he can in each category.
Edwin has been on Rock Star Robotics for 4 years now and is finishing strong with his senior year by helping the team get to the Orlando Regional. He explains some of the challenges he has faced getting to this point but all of it was worth it because it's "as fun as being a rock star." Edwin is excited for his future where he plans to study engineering at Florida Institute of Technology as well as sticking to his roots and volunteering with FIRST at events while mentoring as an alumni.
FIRST inspires students in not just the United States but all over the world! Working internationally gives students a chance to learn from others with different backgrounds and education to accomplish the same goals within FIRST. This year at the 2018 FIRST Robotics Competition Orlando Regionals, we had an appearance from Impossible Robotics FIRST Robotics Competition team 5412 from the Netherlands.
The FIRST Looks crew discovered how teams from the Netherlands operate while speaking with Impossible Robotics' mentor, Henk. Henk discussed the strict schooling system that their team undergoes during the FIRST Robotics Competition season and this made it hard for students to leave for competition. As a result, only one student on their team was able to come to the FIRST Robotics Competition Orlando Regionals this year.
Many would believe that being at a competition with only one member present would be impossible but that is not the case in FIRST. With a little help from some of the local teams and a dash of Gracious Professionalism, Impossible Robotics persevered!
After all of the years that our staff has been a part of the FIRST experience, whether as team members, volunteers or mentors, you would think that we would have lost that sense of excitement and wonder around these kind of events. Oh, but it's actually quite the contrary. We still love being right in the middle of it all. The best part of producing FIRST Looks for us is when we talk with a student who really just gets it. We certainly had a lot of fun getting to know Estavan from FIRST Robotics Competition 945, Banana Robotics.
At the time of the competition, Estavan was a Senior at Colonial High School in Orlando. And if he didn't tell us that this was his first year on the robotics team, we definitely would not have known. He had all of the charm and charisma of a FIRST Veteran, that's for sure. He was recruited to the team by his Calc teacher who knew of his excellent reputation in the Auto Club at school. Everybody knows that he's good with building and fixing and knows how to make things work. So it was natural for him to join the team and get right to work on this student built robot. He admits that it's not the best looking robot, but it meets specs and gets the job done.
Check out his interview to find out about the pressures of the build, the amazing team spirit and the pun (I mean fun) they had along the way. Speaking with Estavan and learning about his team was truly inspiring and is one of the things that makes us love what we do.
The culture of learning and inclusion that FIRST embraces is facilitated by the mentors who help these kids adapt and grow. FIRST truly has the best mentors!
Take, for example, Drew with FIRST Robotics Competition 3627, Jungle Robotics. He is the mentor for the Sarasota County School District. Drew started his career in animation and design and is now teaching robotics and engineering after the students sought him out to get involved in FIRST Robotics Competition. It's easy to tell that it is a position that he takes seriously and brings a passion for STEM learning with him. He's there for the team every step of the way, from the first day of planning and build to outreach programs and team building exercises. He also helps them realize that win or lose, they take the experience along with them.
Drew is also a part of the Scouts, acting as the District Vice Chair in charge of STEM. And although one doesn't normally see a correlation between the Boy Scouts and Robotics, after spending a few minutes with Drew, we were left wondering why we had never put it together ourselves. STEM is actually integral in the teachings of the Scouts, in almost everything that they do. And now they are designing badges, medals and programs that are specific to robotics, gaming and graphic design.
Check out our interview with Drew to find out more about the exciting Scout programs that promote STEM as well as his current FIRST Robotics Competition team and plans to expand in the future.
We never run out of interesting topics when it comes to our interviews with this fan favorite. After all, he wears a lot of different hats. Chuck Stephens is a mentor for FIRST Robotics Competition and FIRST Tech Challenge, a Board Member of the Foundation for Community Driven Innovation (FCDI), part of the Eureka Factory and he works for the Pasco Country Library System. We always learn a during our chats with Chuck, and we have a lot of fun too!
Chuck is currently the mentor/coach of the first ever library based FIRST Robotics Competition team, the Edgar Allan Ohms, who are here competing at the Orlando Regional today. They are based out of the Regency Park Library where they design, build and test their robots.
There is also a lot going on in the Pasco County Library system. Chuck and his coworkers are committed to ensuring that libraries continue to be a place where people can reach their potential. And we have to say that we certainly are impressed. It is refreshing to see how these library branches are reinventing themselves and not only staying relevant but giving back so much to their communities. Not only are there maker spaces where someone can come to learn a craft or teach their favorite hobby, but there are music and recording studios where they can come explore and dabble in an area that they may only have dreamed about. There's also upcoming cooking classes and a community garden in the works.
Chuck is also involved with Gulf Coast Maker and Comic Con and ROBOTICON Tampa Bay. Check out his interview to find out all of the exciting new programs that the library, Eureka Factory and FCDI have in the works.
You can't help but be inspired when you see someone who worked hard to create a team and even overcome some of the hardest challenges, especially when that person is a junior in high school. Janelle with FIRST Robotics Competition 7194, iRam is proof that hard work and dedication pays off.
After taking a STEM class in middle school, Janelle knew that she wanted to also pursue it in high school and decided that a robotics team was the way to go. Her school in New Port Richey, Florida did not have a FIRST Robotics team but she didn't let that stop her. As she went about making this goal a reality, she knew that they needed to get everything in order before actually joining FIRST in order to be as successful as possible. They started out by taking their time to recruit teammates. They accomplished this by spreading the word through pep rallies and fundraisers. They took a hands on approach with their classmates by showing them the cool things that they could make.
Along the way, they learned about the fundamentals of FIRST, like teamwork and gracious professionalism and how important it is to help everybody reach their goals. And although it seemed kind of strange at first to help out the competition, they soon realized how great it felt to do just that, especially when it's for a team that has helped yours.
Watch Janelle's interview to find out more about this inspiring young lady and the challenges she and her team are facing and how they are doubling down to turn their setbacks into growth.
This year celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the Orlando Regionals and we had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Woodie Flowers, who was in attendance to mark the occasion. Woodie, an emeritus professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has a distinguished résumé with an impressive list of honors and achievements. In our circles, however, he is best known as being the co-founder of FIRST Robotics Competition, along with Dean Kamen in 1992. It was Woodie who coined the phrase and environment of Gracious Professionalism, which is truly a cornerstone value in this amazing organization.
It was great to get his perspective on how FIRST has evolved over the years and the direction for the future. We've come from simplistic beginnings of having the robots decipher colors to using vision technology with the use of cameras that take the robots capabilities to the next level. But it doesn't stop with how advanced the robots get. There's a lot more to it. There's a responsibility that comes with such rapidly advancing technology because although it's wonderful to have all of these new capabilities at our fingertips, there are always those out there who will use the progress for nefarious purposes. The fact that FIRST has already built in a culture of honesty, graciousness and truth seeking gives these students a tremendous edge for facing such obstacles in the future. The kids are also given the understanding that although they have the advantage of likely being very successful in their future careers, they also need to teach others along the way.
Make sure to watch this insightful interview with Woodie. He has a special way of understanding and appreciating the advancements in the world of technology and seeing beyond to how it can impact society as a whole. His favorite part of this journey with FIRST is the underlying philosophy of what they do.
We have returned for the 20th Annual FIRST Robotics Competition Orlando Regional. There are 64 teams competing, including one from the Netherlands, and three rookie teams. We speak with representatives from several of the teams, including some of the longest-running teams in Florida, as well as rookie teams. In addition, we speak with the team from the Netherlands about their incredibly unique experience.
We've had the chance to interview numerous FIRST students over the last few years, each with varying degrees of experience on their team. Sydney with FRC 3932, Dirty Mechanics, has been on the team for 5 years. She's had a chance to be involved in just about every aspect in the process. She started out on the build team and through the years has moved more into the business side of things. Her current position is BME Team Leader. She is in charge of Business, Marketing and Entrepreneurship, which covers all of the awards presentations, essays, leadership and team outreach.
Sydney has been to the Orlando Regional Competition for 4 out of her 5 years on the team. She loves this huge, open and fun event. It's like being at a major sporting event rather than at a robotics competition. And her team usually does well at the competition. Of course there are different challenges that occur with the robot, most often with things like timing. But the team is proud that they always work together and get everything on track in time to compete.
She is loving her final season on the team and just enjoying everything. It's a good feeling to be a senior member and assist the team from that perspective. And as this is her senior year in high school, she is grateful to be getting expert assistance with her college applications and has gotten great letters of recommendation from her robotics mentors. And even though she's not quite sure exactly what direction she will go as far as her major is concerned, she's not worried at all because she is bringing along all of the confidence that FIRST has instilled in her. She knows that she still has some time to decide on the perfect career. She is also already looking forward to continuing on as a volunteer/mentor in the future.
One of our favorite things to do here at FIRST Looks is to get to know the teams from other countries. It always fun to connect with them both culturally and professionally. And it's wonderful to find that they have just as much passion and enthusiasm about FIRST as we do here in this country.
It was great to get to know Danielle from FRC 6404, Brazilian Storm. She is a sophomore at her high school in Brazil and was previously on an FIRST LEGO League team for four years. This is her 1st year on this FIRST Robotics Competition team and the transition to the larger robots was a little scary at first. This is also her first time coming to the United States. She's having a blast here at the Orlando Regionals. Her favorite thing is seeing the passion from the students here and watching all of the robots at work.
The team was faring well at the competition, even with a couple of early setbacks. They had a couple of issues in transit with a couple of their Visa's and some lost luggage. Also, they had to ship their robot in multiple packages due to size and weight restrictions and then rebuild it first thing when they got here. They are such a strong and resilient team and didn't let anything hold them back from enjoying the competition. The FIRST Looks control room also had fun chatting with her fellow teammates behind the scenes.
FIRST Robotics is a very important organization that brings more and more educated students into the workforce with robotics experience that will propel them into the future. Once these students graduate from high school, they are encouraged to join the FIRST Alumni Association to stay involved in FIRST and to help students just like them. Alumni volunteer their time and prior experience to encourage the next generation of great minds as well as push the bar up for robotics around the world.
Vishal Vellody is a perfect FIRST alumni example. He was apart of FIRST Robotics Competition 5276 Edgar Allan Ohms as a vital part of the mechanical team for three and a half years. After graduating, he realized that he can apply what he learned on the team and work with the current students to help them learn like he did. Vishal made it his mission to ensure his team learned from the team's past mistakes so that they can evolve robotics. Now, he has volunteered a year of his time and he loves it.
Vishal is a current intern at the Pasco County Library in Land O' Lakes where the Edgar Allan Ohms meets. The space is free to the community to work on projects and teaches anyone numerous skills. Vishal's job is to work with visitors to make sure they have tools and help they need to complete their own projects.
Who doesn't love it when a Jedi stops by for a chat? Well, we might enjoy it a little more than your average interviewers, but that's okay.
It was great to get to know Joao with FIRST Robotics Competition 5557, BB-R8ERS. Once again it was so refreshing to see how excited and motivated a 1st year team member can be. He is a freshman in high school and this his initial exposure to FIRST. When he was looking into which high school he wanted to attend, he chose his current school because of the tech classes offered and the robotics program. He thought it would be a great opportunity to learn a lot and also have a lot of fun.
Joao started off on the electrical team at the beginning of the season and then moved over to the business side. He even presented the Chairman's Award here at the competition. His goals for the future are to get back involved on the electrical team and hopefully become a lead, while still helping out in business.
While we were talking with him about how the team was doing at the competition this year, they were actually currently on the field competing behind us. It was fun to look back and see them in action with all of their teammates cheering them on, light sabers in hand. Many were in costume and you could feel the team spirit all the way up to our booth. There are currently about 35 members on the robotics team. They start out as Padawans when they are rookies and build their way to being lead and mentor Jedi Masters.
One thing Joao loves is how even though this is a technical field, it has the feeling of a large sporting event. That is something that we at FIRST Looks also really enjoy. And if you are looking to also get inspired by FIRST, this is the interview that you are looking for. Check it out and let us know what you think.
So it's no secret to say that the Orlando Regional Competition is one of our favorites. And one of the best parts of our coverage is when Terri Willingham stops by for a chat. Terri was formerly a Regional Director with FIRST. She loved organizing these events and working closely with the teams as they navigated their way through the robotics program. Her new position, as Director of the Foundation for Community Driven Innovation (FCDI), is her most rewarding role yet.
Terri and her husband Steve are now able to take all of the knowledge gained with FIRST a step further with the foundation and AMRoC (Advanced Manufacturing and Robotics Center). They are in the process of building out this manufacturing and robotics center that will be home to a permanent FIRST Robotics Competition field, as well as an FIRST Tech Challenge field and a couple of FIRST LEGO League tables. It will give students a place to come to be creative, build their robots and then test and practice. The dream is to have the makerspace easily accessible with all of the tools available for building and repairs.
Everything started to come together about a year ago when Terri applied for an Argosy Foundation Grant. The application of these funds, as well as other donations, have been disbursed directly to local community groups and programs, such as Robotics Tampa Bay and FIRST teams. It's tough to make real changes when trying to tackle challenges as a national level. She now realizes that by concentrating her efforts hyper-locally, it is easier to leverage community engagement. Thus putting money, manufacturing and jobs in the community. The philosophy is basically that we can change the world in our own back yards and then scale it up from there. At the local level, you can apply a thousand dollars and see actually the impact it creates.
Make sure to watch our interview with Terri and learn more about all of her exciting upcoming ventures. Then stay tuned to watch them grow and even join in the efforts by volunteering along with all of us.
One of the things that makes a FIRST team succeed is the ability to pass knowledge on from season to season. Under normal circumstances, a team expects to rotate members out every year, with a healthy portion staying and some graduating, to be replaced by freshman. Some seasons, however, a larger portion of the team graduates than others, leaving a lot of rookie members.
That is what FIRST Robotics Competition 6527, Short SirKit experienced this season. A large portion of their team were rookies (around 15), though about 5 veteran members remained, including Angel (a 2-year member), who spoke with Daniele and Marissa at the Orlando Regional. It meant that the veteran members all had to take on more of a mentoring role for the new students. Despite the higher number of rookie members, the team was doing well on the field; even better than last season.
Angel acts as a machinist on his team, working with tools like bandsaws, drill presses and a CNC machine, to produce the body and appendages for the robot. He finds the experience of FIRST to be fun, and he appreciates working with his team. Before joining the team he wasn't experienced with the tools he uses, and owes his knowledge to his 2 seasons with Short SirKit.
This team works differently from many other teams, as the team exists as part of a manufacturing class and a robotics class in school, which he heard about from his mother. After enrolling in the class, he was inspired to go into machining as a career after high school. Because the team is run as a class, it means that activities are graded, but there is not as much time for the social aspects of FIRST.