In a country where media and entertainment offer a seductive alternative to interaction and innovation, it should be no surprise Bill Gates is petitioning the U.S. Senate to strengthen American competitiveness. This is an important battle to fight but fortunately there’s a movement already underway. A new generation of designers is being nurtured to reclaim the throne of American ingenuity.
This week, 340 teams of high school students from all around the world, primarily the U.S., will come together in Atlanta, GA to compete in the 16th annual FIRST Robotics Competition. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) is an organization founded by inventor Dean Kamen to foster and challenge young engineers and to promote a greater understanding and pursuit of science and technology.
The FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is one of three events coinciding at the Georgia Dome on April 12-14. “These teams do compete like crazy and try really hard,” said Dr. Woodie Flowers, co-founder of the FRC, “but they treat each other graciously in the process.” Participants will compete for a series of awards including the “Division Winners” award and the prestigious “Chairman’s Award,” given to the team that best demonstrates the highest standard of conduct.
The other two events are the FIRST Vex Challenge, also for high school students, and the FIRST Lego League for middle school students. Though these two events draw more than 2000 competitors, the focus of the championship is the FRC, which alone draws more than 8000 students.
Last year’s competition objective was to build a robot that could collect balls from the ground and launch them through a ring or push them through a goal for points. This year, teams will compete in a game called Rack and Roll, where the objective is to have a robot grab inflated rings and position them on a post in the middle of a court. Teams receive additional points at the end of the challenge if they can lift their robot off the ground.
Despite elaborate games and intricate scoring methods, the goal of these competitions is not necessarily limited to winning. Bill Miller, director of the FIRST Robotics Competition, described a scenario from last year’s competition where one team was having a technical problem and the competing team provided them with the piece needed to continue. “This is really collaboration,” Miller said, “realizing there may be times when you have to rely on a competitor in order to get a bid, or do some things that are very extraordinary.” This is an example of the Gracious Professionalism that Dr. Flowers set forth for the FIRST competition.
More than 2000 companies and foundations are sponsoring this year’s event including: Autodesk, NASA, Underwriter’s Laboratories and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. Teams have a notable audience as they strive to fulfill the mission of the competition.
Visit designnews.com later this week for coverage, videos and podcasts from the competition floor.