The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics organization was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen to inspire young people to become interested in science and technology. Over the years, FIRST has expanded and grown to encompass many organizations and annual events.
The Nashoba Robotics Team has been taking part in the high school level First Robotics Competition (FRC) as team #1768 since 2006. In the words of the FIRST organization, FRC is "a varsity sport of the mind" designed to showcase the excitement of scientific discovery in the same way that athletic competition showcases the excitement of sport.
Enrollment in the FRC has gone up dramatically over the past several years. Not only are teams from around the United States, but also from around the world. In the short time that the Nashoba Robotics Team has been involved, we have competed with teams from Israel and Brazil.
Every year, in early January, the FIRST Robotics organization releases that year's robotics challenge to hundreds of high school teams. This challenge varies widely from year to year so that students will have the opportunity to explore all different aspects of robotic technology. Beginning in January, teams have six weeks to design and build a fully working robot to complete tasks outlined in the challenge. This time period is generally referred to as the "build season."
FIRST encourages professional adult engineers to become involved with high school programs as mentors. During the build season these adults often help students learn the technical aspects of what they are trying to accomplish. After the six-week period is over, the robot is packaged up to await the competition date.
FIRST Robotics runs nearly 40 regional competitions each year. Locally, there are many District competitions within New England. In each competition, robots face off in a test of man and machine to see which team is most capable of completing the FIRST challenge. After 1.5 days worth of nearly continuous matches between randomly selected alliances, the top eight winning teams each draft two additional team to round out their alliance as they move into the elimination rounds to compete together. In the New England District, teams compete to earn ranking points in two qualifying District Events in hopes of being invited to compete at the next level of competition at the New England District Championships. The top performing teams at the District Championships may qualify to continue competing at the highest levels at the FIRST Championship Competition. FIRST robotics events foster a sense of competition and excitement among team members. The drive to perform well at the competition helps to motivate learning and creativity throughout the rest of the year.
Schedule OverviewThe RoboChiefs' season spans the full school year, broken into three periods:
- Pre-Season (September - December)
Mentors and student leaders spend this time teaching
team members new skills. Skill groupings include:
- Controls & Electrical
- Award Applications
- Community Service
- Build Season (January - February)
As soon as FIRST? unveils the current year challenge, the team
gets right down to work. Students hone their skills by participating
in activities throughout the build cycle:
- Strategy/Scouting Planning
- Competition Season (March - May) Although build season is officially ended, there are plenty of requirements and opportunities throughout competition season to repair and/or improve the robot. Prior to each District Event the team is signed up to participate in, the team is allotted a total of six hours that the robot can be signed out of its locked bag in order to fine tune, repair, or test the robot. Furthermore, during a competition itself, there are many opportunities to repair breakage, debug and re-design failures, and generally deal with whatever unexpected fiascos happen during the progress of the competition event. Consequently, practically all of the skills used during Build Season are in high-demand during competition season as well. Additionally, there is a high demand for students to participate in scouting activities prior to and during competitive events. Planning, testing, and observing different strategies used to play the game during the qualification rounds of an event provides critical feedback necessary to determine how the game would best be played during the elimination rounds, if participating. Scouting other teams helps identify which other teams would work best for a winning alliance, as well as helping to uncover the strengths and weaknesses of opposing teams.