Robotics Competition an Eye-Opening Experience

Ever wondered, as you survey the ever-greying and balding crowd at a trade show, where our next crop of engineers, technicians and scientists will come from? Gary Ferrari and I* had just this conversation at a recent Designers Council event –how do we attract young men and women to our industry?

One possible resource is FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics – a not-for-profit organization that helps students ages 6 to 18 to discover and develop a passion for science, technology, engineering and math.  (FIRST Robotics was founded by Dean Kamen, inventor and entrepreneur, whose inventions include the Segway PT and the first drug infusion pump.)

This past Friday, I had the privilege of attending the 2013 FIRST Robotics Competition Peachtree Regional, presented by Georgia FIRST Robotics. It’s one of 60+ competitions taking place throughout the country the next few weeks. Wow! What passion, creativity and inventiveness from public, private and home-schooled high school students.  They work in teams alongside professional engineers and mentors to design, build and program robots; they apply real-world math and science concepts; they learn and use sophisticated hardware and software. In the process, they develop critical skills such as design, project management, programming, teamwork, and strategic thinking – plus have the opportunity for college scholarships.

(A shout out to two of our PCD&F customers – National Instruments and Altium – for being Crown sponsors of First Robotics).

I was given a personal tour of the “Pit” – 10 x 10′ working spaces for each team – and the “Arena Floor” by the TERAdactyls team from Suwanee, GA. (There are some great team names, by the way. Two of my favorites were “CircuitRunners” and “GLAMbots”). On the Arena Floor I saw robots in action playing the Ultimate Ascent game involving pretty complicated maneuvers shooting Frisbees to hit specific targets and climbing pyramids.  Imagine a high school science fair with a heavy dose of DRAGONCON and WWE and you’ve got the picture.

The sheer creativity of the teams, the enthusiasm and obvious love for science and technology was so evident.  And young women – lots of them – just as engaged as their male counterparts.s

Cisco was lead sponsor for this event, and local high tech companies such as Rockwell Collins, Novelis and Lockheed Martin were among the sponsors.  NCR and Spectral Response were just two of many  companies providing judges.  (Note: The Atlanta SMTA Chapter has selected Georgia FIRST as its designated charity for its April 18 Expo and robot demonstrations will be held on the exhibit floor!)

If you get a chance to attend one of these events, go for it!  The passion, creativity, energy and enthusiasm of these kids will amaze you.  (And you might want to take some job applications with you just in case!)

*By Frances Stewart, vice president of marketing and sales at UP Media Group.