For the past few years, I have been a mentor for FIRST Lego League and now FIRST Robotics Competition at our school. When I was in high school, I participated in some of the early seasons of FRC and now with the addition of FLL, my kids have gotten involved at an earlier age and really latched onto it. So of course, I talked myself into helping out with the program. And they’re stuck with me for a while; my son is a sophomore, and when he’s a senior, my daughter will be a freshman and she’s champing at the bit to get into the “big” competition (after 2 years of FLL).
Mentoring these kids has been a terrific experience and something I’ve come to really look forward to each year. I’m fortunate to have an employer who’s supportive of my involvement in the program.
What is FIRST?
The mission of FIRST® is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and innovators, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.
As I’ve explained to a number of people, this is not BattleBots. In fact, the rulebook explicitly states that this is not “combat robotics” and you will be penalized heavily if you intentionally damage another team’s robot. This program is about collaboration, gracious professionalism, and “coopertition.” Teams are grouped into 3-team alliances for each match, and 2 alliances (red & blue) compete against each other. For qualification rounds, the alliances change for each round, so you get the opportunity to play with and against a number of teams throughout.
This Year’s Challenge
This year’s challenge, Charged Up, requires teams to work collaboratively to score points - with additional bonus points if the opposing teams complete a joint task.
Competition season is upon us, and for two of the next three weeks (Wednesday through Saturday), our team will be facing off against over four dozen other teams. March 16 - 18 in at RIT Rochester, NY and then March 30 - April 1 at the MVP Arena in Albany, NY.
Since the first weekend of January, this team of 17 high school students and their mentors have logged thousands of person-hours designing, building (and then re-designing and re-building components), documenting, and programming a 125-pound robot dubbed Icarus to compete in this year’s challenge. This is in addition to putting in many hours in the pre-season getting their tools, parts, and other equipment ready.
The time and energy invested in this endeavor is not unlike scholastic sports or the school’s drama program, but it gets much less attention and promotion from the school. 5 1/2 hours after school two days per week, all day on Saturday, and that’s just the regular schedule. As we go deeper into the season, more time is needed each week.
If you’ve ever worked on a software project that had “crunch time” as the deadline loomed, you know how it goes. This is 2 months of crunch time and the deadline can not move. With mere hours remaining before closing up shop to pack Icarus and the team up for competition, the team put together its reveal video. I present to you…Icarus.
Why Am I Posting This?
I need your help! Because we’re a small team, we have a small cheering section when we’re on the field. We need people in the stands cheering on Icarus and the drive team - and the other teams as well! And I am inviting you to come out and join us. Maybe your high school or college alma mater has a team at the competition (both of mine will be at both events we’re going to).
If you do come out to one of the events, please get in contact with me or find me at the venue. Bring your kids, they’ll have a blast! Bring safety glasses (or we can loan you a pair) and we’ll make arrangements to come check out the behind the scenes action in the pits (preferably during qualifiers or a scheduled downtime).
All events are streamed live on Twitch Search for
FIRSTInspires and then locate the channel(s) streaming the event. There are multiple events each weekend so you’ll need to read the descriptions of each to find the right one.
- Thursday - Practice
- Friday - Qualification Rounds
- Saturday Morning - Qualification Rounds
- Saturday Noon - Alliance Selection
- Saturday Afternoon - Finals & awards
March 16-19 - Rochester, NY
This will be held at the Gordon Field House on the RIT campus. Admission is free.
March 29 - April 1 - Albany, NY
This will be held at the MVP Arena in downtown Albany.