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FIRST: Not Just Robots

You’ve probably heard of FIRST Robotics, but the robots are a means to an end for FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which was founded by inventor Dean Kamen in 1989.

Students prepare robots for the FIRST Championship. Image courtesy of Adriana Groisman / FIRST Robotics.

Students prepare their robot for the FIRST Championship. Image courtesy of Adriana Groisman / FIRST Robotics.

Kamen is best known for inventing the Segway, but he has more than 400 patents and leads more than 400 employees at the company he founded in 1982, DEKA.

FIRST designs programs to build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills for students from kindergarten through high school while motivating them to pursue opportunities in science, technology, and engineering. “Students are challenged to raise funds, design a team ‘brand,’ hone teamwork skills, and build and program industrial-size robots to play a field game against like-minded competitors,” according to the organization. It hosts the FIRST Robotics Competition for students in Grades 9-12, FIRST Tech Challenge for Grades 7-12, FIRST LEGO League for Grades 4-8, and FIRST LEGO League Jr. for Grades K-3.

FIRST Championship

The FIRST Championship is the culmination of the season for all FIRST programs, bringing together three separate robotics competitions. Each year, a different theme and challenge is created for students. This year’s FIRST Robotics game, FIRST Steamworks, was shown to high school students via a January 7 kickoff where challenge details were revealed. The next game for the FIRST Tech Challenge students will be revealed in September, and the FIRST LEGO League game will be revealed in August.

FIRST Robotics teams received a kit of parts made up of motors, batteries, control system components, construction materials, and a mix of additional automation components–with limited instructions. High school students, working alongside professional mentors, have six weeks to design and build a robot to meet this year’s engineering challenge.

The 2017 FIRST Robotics Competition will reach 85,000 high school students representing about 3,400 teams from nearly every state in the U.S., as well as other countries. Teams will participate in 55 regional competitions, 80 district competitions, and 10 district championships.

About 800 high school teams will qualify to go to one of two Championships in Houston April 19-22 and St. Louis April 26-29. At press time, FIRST announced that a FIRST Championship will take place in Detroit beginning in 2018 and at least through 2020. The 2018 event will take place April 25-28 with activities at both Cobo Center and Ford Field.

Robotics Make an Impact

According to FIRST’s evaluation data, student participants are twice as likely to major in science or engineering, with almost 90% of alumni now in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field as a student or professional.

More than 200 businesses, academic institutions and organizations make $50 million in scholarships available to FIRST participants.

You can get involved in FIRST by donating, volunteering, mentoring or via a corporate sponsorship. Individual volunteers make up 99% of the FIRST workforce via as little as a weekend event commitment up to volunteering to mentor or coach a team.

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