“It's Not About the Robots”



Dean Kamen, serial inventor and founder of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), often says this phrase at regional and championship FIRST Robotics Competitions.

What is it about?

This is my first year with skin in the game – not with a team, but as part of the group at Oracle and WPI porting and supporting Java for the robotics competition.


As I looked over my photos of regional competitions and the world championship in Atlanta I found some shots that exemplified FIRST to me.



The Green Reapers call a time-out in the final rounds of the WPI Regional. Something has gone horribly wrong, and they have to make it right (in front of the whole audience).

This worked at back at school...


No, there shouldn't be any parts left over...
 It takes a village to raise a robot


You can't always get what you want. Or what you need. But you go on anyway.



I guess what impresses me is that after teams learn that a plan for “the coolest robot ever” is just science fiction until it is built and tested, after learning that creating a robot is so complicated that teamwork isn't just nice but a requirement, or kids that never held a screwdriver before can make something unique and amazing, after learning that the math and science they've been learning isn't just useful, but it's kind of fun, after they have a shiny new robot in a picture with the school principle, then they go to competitions. Then they realize that haven't built a robot so much as they've built a “Murphy's Law” detector. And they have to deal with it. And they do.

If this experience doesn't help develop a world-class, science and technology literate workforce I don't know what will.

The most iconic scene that I photographed was team 51 waiting to compete at the world championship, when something happened that required them to swap out the main computer of their robot. Like a NASCAR pit crew, the team jumped to perform this lobotomy while on the floor of the Georgia Dome. Unlike most competitive sports, other teams swarmed around to help them. In this picture, team 40 gets ready to help by re-installing a fresh image to the robot's computer.




Team 40 used Java on their robot, which may explain the gratuitous Oracle logo :-)




The FIRST Competitions teach the kids to bring everything they have – their creativity, knowledge, skill, problem solving, energy, commitment. Then share it – that's how big problems get solved. And if they bring all of that to the competitions, they'll leave with more than they came with. And that's what it's about.


p.s.

Apparently it's also about having fun. And hair. :-)



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Out of the fog... of bits, bytes, and really small Java Virtual Machines, by Derek White. The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle.

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