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Slashdot Goes to the FIRST Robotics Competition (Video)

Roblimo posted 1 year,7 days | from the machines-are-getting-smarter-and-stronger-every-day dept.

Science 41

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) has robot competitions all over the United States. FIRST was founded by inventor Dean Kamen. According to Wikipedia he has said that the FIRST competition is the invention he is most proud of, and he predicts that the 1 million students who have taken part in the contests so far will be responsible for some significant technological advances in years to come. In any case, Robert Rozeboom (samzenpus) was at the Michigan FIRST championship with camcorder in hand, and brought back some great shots of robots at work -- or maybe play. They fired off volleys of Frisbee-like discs, ran into each other, and climbed metal pyramids, either independently or under the control of their human masters. There was a pretty good crowd in the stands, too, to cheer on the robots. Or more likely, to cheer on the robots' human masters, since we're not yet at the point where robot masters invite their robot friends to competitions where they show off their humans.

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FIRST post (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43464625)

I am a robot!

Mate with me or die, human!

Re:FIRST post (2)

OakDragon (885217) | 1 year,7 days | (#43464787)

I'm pretty sure this is not the "first" robotics competition, I don't care how loudly you shout it.

Re:FIRST post (3, Insightful)

Dins (2538550) | 1 year,7 days | (#43464889)

I'm pretty sure this is not the "first" robotics competition, I don't care how loudly you shout it.

I mean, I don't RTFA any more than the next guy, but it's in the very first line of the summary:

"FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology)"

Going to assuming you were being snarky...

Re:FIRST post (1)

OakDragon (885217) | 1 year,7 days | (#43464915)

That would be a wise assumption. ;)

The amusing thing is someone has already moderated me "Informative"! And that's cool, because I firmly believe my snark should earn me karma.

Re:FIRST post (1)

Dins (2538550) | 1 year,7 days | (#43464941)

Hey look, someone modded me "Insightful"! And that's also cool, because I firmly believe my snark detection should likewise earn me karma. :)

Re:FIRST post (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43470685)



High School Students (1)

horm (2802801) | 1 year,7 days | (#43464637)

What we need is to find a way to get high school students involved in these sorts of programs. I would have loved to go to an event like this when I was still in high school, but I didn't know anything about it.

Re:High School Students (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43464703)

That's exactly who competes in the FIRST competitions. You should look it up.

Re:High School Students (2)

ThorGod (456163) | 1 year,7 days | (#43464715)

An FRC team takes many resources. The community and school have to be involved, and they really need a good mentor. I don't mean a teacher or engineer that's just going to do all the work for the team. I mean a volunteer that's willing to devote 20-40 hrs per week to students.

Re:High School Students (2)

radtea (464814) | 1 year,7 days | (#43465933)

I was an FRC mentor for several years and it was both incredibly demanding and incredibly rewarding. You'll see high-school students go from clueless newbies in their first year with the team to competent, confident and capable young men and women by the time they're done.

A lot of it is the unplanned activities. One of my favouite memories is teaching a couple of students some vacuum technique for ensuring the pneumatic system was sealed properly. The students are motivated, interested and eager to learn, and you get to see their competencies undergo these sudden upward steps where they are frustrated and confused one minute and doing the job properly five or ten minutes later.

It's really worthwhile for everyone, and if anyone had told me how much fun it would be to work with teenagers I would have laughed my head off. But it turns out it is.

Re:High School Students (3, Insightful)

i kan reed (749298) | 1 year,7 days | (#43464981)

FIRST was probably responsible for 90% of my most useful education in highschool. It was that and calculus. Learning by making real things produces far, far better results.

Learning about torque in a (sadly) typical high-school physics class: memorize formula and plug values into formula for test.
Learning about torque in FIRST club: use torque calculations through various gear ratios to calculate how fast you can get up a ramp and beat the other robots there. You see the value, because you use the knowledge to make something.

Normal schooling in the U.S. seems like an attempt to disconnect knowledge from its value.

Re:High School Students (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | 1 year,7 days | (#43465077)

That's the whole point of the program: The high schoolers aren't only involved, they take the lead in organizing the team and working with teachers and volunteering engineers to build and manage their bot.

Re:High School Students (2)

Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) | 1 year,7 days | (#43466535)

According to the video, there are now more high schools in Michigan with FIRST teams than with hockey teams. Also, be warned. The video contains shots of nerd "dancing." It all looks like great fun.

Re:High School Students (1)

armanox (826486) | 1 year,7 days | (#43468853)

My High School has a team. Team 007 forever! (Why yes, I was partly involved with the robotics team, and had a lot of friends on it. How did you guess?)

Re: High School Students (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43471049)

Not trolling here...just curious...not sure what type of high school you were attending but our homeschool network of 200+ families has been sending a group of our students to these since about 2006-07.

Volunteer Judge reporting in! (5, Interesting)

ThorGod (456163) | 1 year,7 days | (#43464675)

I was a rookie judge at one of the FRC events this year. The whole experience was inspiring. The teams function much like non-profit organizations with the business of designing robots to achieve that year's challenge. They take in funds and output competent students and competitive robots. It's amazing to see how involved some of their outreach is. Some teams setup mini competitions for their local elementary or middle schools. Not to forget all the electrical, mechanical, software, general, and team skills the students learn along the way.

Re:Volunteer Judge reporting in! (3, Interesting)

k6mfw (1182893) | 1 year,7 days | (#43466245)

I second that. Last year, I spent only two hours helping. This year I signed up as an inspector and spent all of Thurs, most of Fri and Sat at San Jose event. It is interesting to see how teams operate. I think most of the action is in the pit area (that's where everything has to come together). Some had all members working on the robot and those not hands-on were working the bench or logistics (getting stuff, watching what other teams do). Then some teams have a few members working but others seem to just "hang out" (hey, adults are like that at many work places). And some teams had the adults doing much of the work (not a good thing, the youngsters should do everything). Adults (mentor and advisors) should be the ones "hanging out." Let the students experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.. It was loud, fast pace, go-go-go... I'm signing up next year.

Some teams were very well honed in their craft, others such as first time teams were just struggling to get their robots passed inspection, getting systems to work (i.e. frisbee toss), and couple groups barely made it (i.e. cleared their bumpers and submitted their BOM 15 seconds before closing time of 8 pm). I tell ya, this real world stuff can be a real PITA. There was a team had a solenoid jam while waiting in line for upcoming match. Like mad they stayed with it (didn't ***freak out***) and finally fixed the problem. One team had problems with their shooter, and had a match coming up. Another team saw their predicament and gave their time slot for the practice area (you can score points with gratiuous professionalism, FIRST is not winner-take-all like a demolition derby). This team was able to troubleshoot their shooter before the match.

One team that impressed me is where they changed entire chassis (from primary to alternate robot) on Thursday and finished it time for inspection sign-off. This major change is something most teams would never attempt (not enough time). How they do it? They designed and built entire robot including chassis. When they sought sponsors, they seek money, parts, and materials donations. Some sponsors want to design and build the chassis, students then do the rest. Because all team members intimately knew their hardware, it was not too big to make a major change.

Re:Volunteer Judge reporting in! (2)

stokessd (89903) | 1 year,7 days | (#43466929)

I judged two years in a row at the local FIRST competition. I don't do it anymore because the awards are an "everybody is a winner" type of event. In the two years I judged, one or two teams were head and shoulders above the other teams, and deserved to clean up. But the judges agonized and spread out the awards to everybody. That does both the winners and losers a disservice and doesn't reflect how life really works. It was an interesting idea, but the lack of awards based on merit sort of soured it for me.


Re:Volunteer Judge reporting in! (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,6 days | (#43475789)

I judged two years in a row at the local FIRST competition. I don't do it anymore because the awards are an "everybody is a winner" type of event. In the two years I judged, one or two teams were head and shoulders above the other teams, and deserved to clean up. But the judges agonized and spread out the awards to everybody. That does both the winners and losers a disservice and doesn't reflect how life really works. It was an interesting idea, but the lack of awards based on merit sort of soured it for me.


I'm glad you got your fountainhead merit badge though.

A plugin is required to view this content? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43464711)

Why? It's 2013 and HTML 5 video works fine.

Re:A plugin is required to view this content? (1)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | 1 year,7 days | (#43464877)

Why? It's 2013 and HTML 5 video works fine.

How can they track your every movement, and serve you advertisements, if you won't play along?

Precision Guessworks (1)

echo465 (574642) | 1 year,7 days | (#43464781)

The World Championships start next week in St. Louis, MO. Go Team 1646!

Re:Precision Guessworks (1)

CompMD (522020) | 1 year,7 days | (#43464893)

The school I mentor for had a rough time in the Kansas City Regional, but fixed things up and solved some problems to end up doing well enough at the Razorback regional that they will go to the championships. Go Team 2410!

I want to make a "FIRST post!" joke! (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43464793)

But I'm nowhere near first! Anyway, I was involved in this 7 years ago, and speaking from experience I have two things to say:

1) This is a GREAT program. If you can get started, the experience is a blast and saying "I built robots in highschool" is awesome and helps a lot with future plans.

2) The general attitude of the program about what students can and can't do needs a desparate revamp. When I was in the program, we went to a "training session" where we were meant to learn from other, more experienced teams. The attitude from the presenters and the general consensus from the people there was "You guys aren't engineers so we don't actually expect you to do anything. Find some strong engineering mentors and let them build the robot for you, and only do some toy example projects they make for you!" We built the entire robot on our own with the help of a single parent who was a lawyer and didn't really know what they were doing. And sure, we made some serious mistakes and weren't all that successful (we made it into the regional finals but no further), but we held our heads high because we (the students) built our robot, unlike a lot of teams.

I'm not saying that I think the program should be devoid of mentors or anything, but a lot of teams feel like they succeeded most thoroughly when they have that "I made this science project all on my own!" with the Dad standing a bit too proudly right next to it. And the problem is that they don't discourage the parents building the robots and only letting the kids pilot it within FIRST!

tl;dr: FIRST is cool, but I hope they figure out a way to balance mentor input so that smaller, student driven teams are more successful.

Re: I want to make a "FIRST post!" joke! (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43466263)

The attitude of the presenters you had misrepresented the real attitude of FIRST, which is more along the lines of what you ended up with. My son's team (254) doesn't do anything that doesn't come from the students, and the mentors (who are fabulous) only provide guidance. If you want proof of this just watch my son's teammates field-strip, upgrade, and reassemble their robot in the pit the day before championships. No WAY could they do that without knowledge of what they were building and experience in doing it. No "toy projects" here.

Student on a team (4, Interesting)

Chris Denniston (2861939) | 1 year,7 days | (#43464925)

I'm a high school senior who has been on the school's robotics team for 2 years and it's really one of the best thing the school has to offer for kids interested in programming and engineering. It's one of the few organized clubs where nerdy kids can come together and talk about stuff they like and actually do something they like. I worked on programming and electronics and it's really the only way I've seen to learn how to build a program with other people correctly, a skill that I believe is going to be incredibly valuable in college and beyond.

Re:Student on a team (4, Interesting)

i kan reed (749298) | 1 year,7 days | (#43465045)

Well as someone who was in FIRST a decade ago, and is now an adult, it was probably the most useful experience of my pre-college life. Your impressions probably aren't far off.

Speaking as a former Segway employee... (1)

Slartibartfast (3395) | 1 year,7 days | (#43465343)

Segway was no longer a part of DEKA (Dean Kamen's company) when I worked at Segway, but our head of engineering, Ron Reich, was actively involved in one of the local schools' program, and I must say, it really did seem to make a difference. I admit that, as a SysAdmin, I'm leery of offering my services to FIRST -- I mean, I ain't gonna be the one coding robotic algorithms (except maybe in Ruby). Perhaps I should re-consider... the positive feedback here is making me think that, perhaps, I'm overlooking an opportunity to chip in to something worthwhile.

Re: Speaking as a former Segway employee... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43466293)

If you can handle coding in Ruby you are in good shape. Robotic coding is pretty simple stuff.

Re: Speaking as a former Segway employee... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43466305)

Seriously, sometimes a team needs someone to do simple stuff like booking hotels or driving a car. Don't hesitate to get involved, it's rewarding as hell.

Real Frisbees (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43465025)

Hey man, FIRST accepts no substitute. These are genuine Wham-o brand Frisbees

Many thanks. (2)

nospam007 (722110) | 1 year,7 days | (#43465203)

"In any case, Robert Rozeboom (samzenpus) was at the Michigan FIRST championship with camcorder in hand, "

Thanks for the warning, I almost clicked on the video.

It works on TV too (1)

Puls4r (724907) | 1 year,7 days | (#43465769)

FIRST is an amazing opportunity for students to work alongside professionals and learn. One of the key points of the competition is that professionals can build the robots - there is no limitation placed on the engineers. As a result, you get professionally engineered robots that the students have a ton of input into, and they get to see how to make it all into a real product. The great part is that it works for TV broadcasts too. The Michigan State Competition was broadcast: http://www.dptv.org/programs/robotics/index.shtml?cmpgn=hphl [dptv.org]

Six Year FIRST Mentor and Competition Organizer He (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43467139)

Slashdot, FIRST is something you should be involved in. Sadly, this is probably the most demanding thing that kids do in high school. You get six weeks to solve a hard problem with NO CHANCE OF SUCCESS. I have been at more than one competition where a team showed up with a robot that was non functional or operative in any way. It is very similar to running a startup company, you need about $10,000 for a FIRST season because robots ain't cheap.

The stuff that kids play with is all real-world and they learn everything from gear ratios to wire gauges to computer programming to cost optimization to getting along as a team when a deadline looms, resources are running out and infighting and finger pointing begins. It is all such happy fun.

When people ask me to explain FIRST, I tell them it is like building the Space Shuttle with High Schoolers.

Now, here is the punchline. After 6-years of doing this I have gotten to see what the kids do next. Amazing things. They are often head and shoulders above the rest at their respective schools. They get it. They understand work ethic, team work, and how to make decisions under pressure. This kids are becoming the top employees and leaders just like Dean mentioned.

All high schools should have a program for kids similar to this. So many kids in school learn to play the game and coast on through. There is no coasting in FIRST, it is do or die trying.

jealous (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,7 days | (#43470945)

My daughter is a co-captain of her FRC team. I wish it was around when I was in school.
This could be Dean's real long term impact on society.

I attended Rocky Mountain regional 4/6 (1)

peter303 (12292) | 1 year,6 days | (#43472585)

Quite a nerdfest. Makes the geeky science kids feel good. There is hope for US home-grown STEM. If you read the current congression immigration debate you'd think we have but given up in theis area.

Robotics (1)

jonathonlettvin (2900923) | 1 year,6 days | (#43481127)

Allison. if you think Karen`s posting is super... I just bought a brand new Bugatti Veyron after earning $8702 thiss month and also 10/k last munth. without a doubt it is the most-financially rewarding I've ever done. I started this 7-months ago and almost immediately got minimum $79, p/h. I follow the instructions here, FAB33.COM
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