This year's FIRST World Championship, was an exceptional year. In the 20th year of FIRST, the surge in the number of teams being started and schools seeing the transformative power of this program is incredible by all standards. There were students in all grades: K-3 in Junior FIRST Lego League, Middle Schoolers in FLL, and finally the High School students participating in FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics Competition.
Each of these competitions have their own games and their own unique culture, and being able to be at World Championship and walk through each of them really fills you with awe to see so many students excited to learn and help each other.
FIRST Starts a College Division
For years, students have learned CAD, JAVA programming, machine shop practices, business and marketing skills and then it ended when they graduated high school. Of course some colleges had their own programs but now FIRST can be open to every college student. Not only this, but FIRST is perfect for the culture and spirit of University Sports where the entire school turns out to support their athletes. Now everyone can participate and/or support the learning that is going to change the world.
What is this new college program? It's called CARD or Collegiate Aerial Robotics Demonstration. That's right these robots are flying!
The game is called All Your Base (hooray Geeks!) and is played essentially like a game of Tic-Tac-Toe. Students were allowed to choose their microcontroller and most of them picked...Arduino of course! For its cost, relative ease, and large amount of community support, it was perfectly fitting for the FIRST principle of Coopertition and support.
With 352 teams for the FRC program, there is no doubt of how quickly this is catching on around the world. I get skeptical looks when I tell my students and others about how exciting these events can be, but with thousands watching live and online, there is no doubt of the excitement and feasibility of this catching on mainstream.
Friday evening, we were treated to a special performance by Will.i.am and the Black Eyed Peas. Will.i.am's appointment as "Director of Creative Innovation" at Intel has allowed him to proclaim a synergy of technology and artists. At this year's FIRST Kickoff he stood there next to Dean Kamen and Woodie Flowers to get us pumped up for this season. Friday's performance was recorded to air on August 14th at 7pm on ABC as a showcase of FIRST and the Black Eyed Peas.
Kamen, shared a conversation between himself and Will.i.am before Kickoff where he asked if he was going to help make FIRST cool. Will.i.am replied, "I can't make it cool, it already is. I want to make it loud!" With releases like The New Cool and ever increasing opportunities for students to participate, the culture is shifting and we will see a shift towards celebrating STEM as we do with music and sports.
A fact shared with us Saturday night, if FIRST grows as much in the second 20 years as it did in the first, we will have over 150,000 teams by 2031. Will you be one of those teams?
I hope to see you and your team next year at a FIRST or VEX regional. Feel free to leave your World Championship experience in the comments, or describe how robotics has impacted your community/life.
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