What is FIRST Robotics?

It’s that time of year again–the time for FIRST Robotics!

What is FIRST Robotics, you ask?

Dexter Dreadnaughts test out part of their "DreadBot" before a 2014 competition.

Dexter Dreadnaughts test out part of their “DreadBot” before a 2014 competition.

Picture the culture of high school sports–the teamwork, the practices, the competitions–but instead of playing basketball or volleyball, the teams build robots to compete in original challenges. Known as “the varsity sport for the mind,” there’s a new game with new rules released each January at the annual FIRST kickoff.

This year’s game is called “Recycle Rush,” and teams from Dexter, Huron, Pioneer, and Skyline high schools have been using Maker Works’ CNC plasma cutter, laser cutter, 3D printer, Shopbot CNC Router, and other woodworking tools to engineer their robots for victory. The four high schools each built robots that competed in the 2014 competition (check out photos and descriptions of them here).

In addition to athletics-style competition, however, is also competition of a different sort; awards for teams that demonstrate FIRST’s values of “gracious professionalism” and “coopertition.” During games, judges seek out teams that show gracious professionalism by being respectful and encouraging of high-quality work, as well as teams who demonstrate coopertition by helping and cooperating with others.

The inaugural FIRST competition took place in 1992, in a high school gym in New Hampshire. Compare that with last year’s competition, in which over 68,000 students from 17 countries competed. That kind of growth is exactly what FIRST founder Dean Kamen (otherwise known for inventing the Segway) intended when he created the program. Of the one million total students who have participated in FIRST, Kamen predicts many of them will be part of important technological advances in future years.

“Everything about [FIRST] just grew the way every other sport grows. The only difference is our sport is developing the muscle hanging between their ears, and it’s the sport in which every one of these kids can turn pro,” says Kamen.

Interested in getting involved? Consider volunteering with FIRST, or cheering on a local team in an upcoming competition.