Last weekend I added a new skill to my resume…Robot Inspector. I was helping out with the Vermont FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Tech Challenge as they held their 5th annual competition at Essex High School. My role was to help students get through their Robot Inspections prior to the competition. As I looked over the room full of excited students, I couldn’t help but feel our future is in good hands. This competition has grown from just 5 teams in 2013 to 15 Vermont teams this year. Several have made it into the finals.
The young tinkerers on these teams will enter our workforce just as robotics start to permeate our businesses. FIRST began 10 years ago and has grown from 11,000 teams to now more than 44,000. The contest helps build a workforce with strong STEM skills by combining the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology.
FIRST students plan and build their robots from an approved list of materials and specifications then they program their robots with Java (a popular computer language). FIRST students acquire skills in three emerging technologies: sensors; 3D printing, and open-source software. Also they are exposed to the tools and thinking skills required to succeed in engineering and advanced manufacturing careers. Teams develop strategies based on sound engineering principles, such as rapid prototyping and iterative design.
They build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills that will lead to opportunities in science, technology, and engineering.
The Tech Challenge gives them a chance to compete head-to-head where teams operate their robots against other teams. The competition uses a competitive sports model with matches involving four robots on two teams. After a 30-second period where the teams run in “pre-programmed” mode then for the next two minutes teams use controllers to direct their robots. Tasks in each match include picking up a ball, hurling balls into a basket and touching a beacon to change its color. Elimination rounds narrow the field until the winners are chosen.
Congratulations to the 15 Vermont teams that competed this year. Every single student is a winner because they are learning the value of high-quality work, the importance of teamwork and how to respect others.
Learn more about FIRST here.