Founded by inventor and biotechnologist ,Dean Kamen , nearly 25 years ago, in an effort to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, FIRST is a K-12 nonprofit education organization that uses robot challenges to build science and technology skills and interests ,along with self-confidence, leadership, and life skills . In Florida, FIRST serves nearly 10,000 students statewide. At the high school level, over $16 million in scholarships are available to participating students.
From an adult perspective, FIRST is building future well rounded science, technology and business leaders. From a youth perspective, it’s nerdvana! A technorock gear head geek fest – with scholarships! George H.W. Bush once famously described FIRST as “Like WWF but for smart people.”
One of my favorite jobs as RD, is working with teams at outreach events – essentially any event that offers an opportunity to share FIRST with the general public or the business community; business conventions like IBM Innovate, and PTC Users, and professional associations like the recent NAACP ACT-SO conference in Orlando a couple of weeks ago. The Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) is a yearlong achievement program designed to recruit, stimulate, and encourage high academic and cultural achievement among African-American high school students.
Boys and Girls Club Walt Disney Branch FTC Team 6090 and Orlando Science Schools robotics teams, FTC Team 5070 N.U.T.S. (Nerds United for Technological Superiority), and their FRC Team 4013 Clockwork Mania did a great job showcasing FIRST, giving students opportunities to drive their robots and talking about their competition experiences.
Teams love outreach events for some obvious reasons – sometimes it gets them a field trip day, and even better, they get to run their robots, which you can never do enough! But outreach events are awesome because teams often get to see and meet some amazing people – like Grand Hank at the NAACP ACT SO event – and to see some amazing applied science, and technology, like outreach teams at last year’s Orlando Mini Maker Faire and at Otronicon last fall, at the Orlando Science Center.
It’s one thing to build a robot for a high school competition, and something else entirely to realize that those fun tinkering skills can translate into building and programming robust industrial robots or highly specialized robotic instruments like the da Vinci Surgical system.
There will be FIRST teams at Orlando Mini Maker Faire again this year – FIRST LEGO League elementary and middle school teams, and FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics Competition high school level teams. These are all student built robots, built in six to 12 weeks from scratch to meet each program’s challenge.
This year’s FRC robots are industrial strength ultimate Frisbee flinging machines; the FTC robots are grapplers and manipulators; the FLL robots are made out of LEGOs. What more do you need to know?!
So be sure to check out the FIRST Robot Makers at Orlando Mini Maker Faire 2013, where you can try your hand at driving , try out the Robot C Virtual Worlds simulator and more, and see this awesome Sport for the Mind!
I’m founder and current president of Learning is for Everyone (LI4E.org) and have been lead curator and promoter for TEDxYouth@TampaBay since 2010, and Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire 2012 and 2013, as well as lead organizer of Gulf Coast Makers. I am also the Regional Director for FIRST STEM education programs in Central Florida. And I like making stuff!