Ultimate robotics competition inspires thousands

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

FIRST robotics
Every year, FIRST changes up the robotics challenge with different goals for aspiring builders.

As American students fall behind in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), a non-profit group called FIRST is inspiring them to become future inventors.

The organization’s name is an acronym meaning “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”, and it was founded in 1989 to motivate and educate young scientists. In April, FIRST hosted the “Super Bowl” of robotics, where over 18,000 students ages 6 to 18 competed in front of 40,000 cheering fans. Confetti rained down on dueling bots controlled by teams of participants, as they pulled off maneuvers as wacky as shooting hoops and stacking large plastic bins.

It’s not just a competition for elite nerds, either, since FIRST encourages teams to include artists for prototype designing, metal shop pros to construct the bots, and programmers to make high-tech coding. Every team is then given a standard kit of robotic parts, a common set of rules, and six weeks to make the ultimate robo athlete.

Programs like FIRST are more important than ever now, as the demand for technologically savvy people grows in a wide variety of industries. Unfortunately, the USA’s Department of Education says that only 16 percent of high school seniors are proficient in math and pursuing a future STEM career. FIRST believes pop culture is partially to blame, since last century’s celebrities were more likely to be inventors like Thomas Edison and Alexander Bell, whereas most kids now worship movie and sports stars. After all, Kim Kardashian’s latest outfit seems to generate more articles and attention than breakthroughs in cancer research and space exploration. FIRST is pushing back against this tide, ensuring that future generations are filled with STEM superstars.

Images courtesy of FIRST.