FIRST Robotics: Inspiring students in science and technology

You’ll hear lots about FIRST Robotics on this blog.  First–full disclosure– I am a paid contractor for the organization, with the job to help robotics teams develop and grow in Oregon.  Second, I am a coach to three FIRST Tech Challenge teams, so that takes up a fair amount of bandwidth.  Finally, I am a huge fan of FIRST Robotics because the organization does exactly what the name says: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology inspires and engages kids in a hard, fun, grueling challenge with mentors and coaches to guide them but they (the students) get to do the work.

FIRST has 4 programs for students ages 6-18.  All of them feature a yearly challenge or topic and emphasize the process of innovation over the results (although it is still really fun to win!).  This post will give an overview of the programs.  Expect many more posts about competitions, events and volunteer opportunities with FIRST Robotics at all levels.

JrFIRST LEGO LEAGUE (JrFLL): For the youngest students, Jr. FIRST LEGO League is for kids ages 6-9 and features guided play with LEGO, creating a model with a moving part and a “Show Me” poster explaining the model they created.  3-4 students seem to be the best size although up to 6 kids can be on a team.  Locally (in Oregon and SW Washington), JrFLL is organized by the Oregon Robotics Tournament Outreach Program (ORTOP). This video is from the 2010 JrFLL Showcase at OMSI.

FIRST LEGO League (FLL): For kids ages 9-13 (14 outside of the US), FLL is an exciting competition where they not only build and program an autonomous robot, but they research and present a project as well as demonstrate their understanding and practice of the FLL Core Values.  Just as important as their technical achievement with the robots, kids learn research and presentation skills, as well as how to work together as teams and achieve results together.  FLL is organized by ORTOP.

Students at 2009 State championship tournament

FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC): FTC is one of the newest FIRST programs and is rapidly expanding across the country, including in Oregon and Washington.  One of two programs for high school students, FTC teams of up to 10 kids build a robot using a kit plus parts from a list of permitted materials.  Their robot must fit into an 18 inch cube and will compete both autonomously and under driver control — “control” can be somewhat loosely defined :-).  They need to focus a lot of functionality into a small area. The FTC Challenge is released in September each year and competitions are usually held December- February. Teams can be associated with a school or organized in the community. FTC is locally organized by ORTOP.

2010 FTC Qualifying rounds at OMSI

FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is oldest and the flagship FIRST program.  For more than 20 years, students and mentors have raced through an intense 6-week build season to design, manufacture, and program a large robot.  This high-intensity build season leads up to a large regional competition, locally held at the Memorial Coliseum over a 3-day period in March.  Off-season events also provide training and practice opportunities for teams.  FRC is locally organized by a Regional Director and a Regional Planning Committee.  Information about FRC in Oregon and SW Washington can be found on the Oregon FIRST webiste.

2011 Autodesk Oregon Regional "Yes we can!"

If you have any questions about becoming involved with FIRST robotics, please contact me and I’ll help you get connected.


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