Someone invents a completely new sport, explains the rules, and then asks you to build a robot that will not only successfully play the game, but compete against other robots, too. Oh, and you have just six weeks to do all this.
This is the position in which area high-school students competing in the FIRST robotics competition find themselves. FIRST, or, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, an international non-profit organization, released details of the game at kick offs around the world in early January. Since then, local teams from Dexter, Huron, Pioneer, and Skyline High Schools have been going full speed ahead.
FIRST competitions are filled with all the adrenaline of any high school football or basketball game. Fans in the stands cheer on their teams, and robots race to score points before time runs out. But there are also key differences between FIRST robotics competitions and traditional high school sports. Other than the fact that participants have calculated the physics behind each ball toss, they are also in hot pursuit of the prized Chairman’s Award.
The highly sought-after Chairman’s Award is presented to teams that foster passion for science and technology, and that embody values that FIRST calls “gracious professionalism” and “coopertition.” Judges seek out teams that demonstrate gracious professionalism by respecting others and encouraging high-quality work, and that display coopertition through helping and cooperating with others, especially in the midst of heated competition.
Gracious professionalism and coopertition are carried out not only during competitions, but also long before then, while the robots are being built. Stop by the Maker Works warehouse space where members of the Dexter, Huron, Pioneer, and Skyline teams work nearly six days each week, and you’ll witness teammates not only fastidiously sketching out ideas, programming models of parts, and testing out trajectories, but also sharing resources and supporting members of other teams, too.
FIRST has recently snowballed in recognition and popularity. Endorsements championed by musical artist will.i.am with support from the likes of Bono and Britney Spears, as well as this video with Morgan Freeman and President Obama, have put the previously little-known world of youth robotics on the global stage.