Random and Silly Bits from FIRST Robotics Championships

Random notes and silly thoughts:

· One of the things I like about FIRST coopetitions is the creativity teams show with their uniforms. There is some creativity shown in these. Another thing I think is neat is the tradition of teams creating buttons not only to wear but trade as well. Something I learned the hard way in my team’s regional competition. We had buttons but nowhere near enough. We remedied this when we went to the state competition.

· One act that shows the spirit of coopetition and gracious professionalism is how one American team helped a foreign team with parts and tools to build a new robot when the foreign team’s robot got stuck in customs. Time and again I heard members from one team looking for another team to share batteries, parts, and tools. Very cool!

· FIRST needs to get ESPN to televise this thing. The worldwide leader in sports already televises the National Spelling Bee so educational events is not out of their scope. Add the hard hitting action and strategic planning it could possible draw in the football and hockey crowd. The increased exposure would inspire more students to get involved. Finally, while NASA TV televised the event, ESPN could bring more money to FIRST to spread out to teams in need and calm their fears about what the economy could do to programs.

· Speaking of money, it takes a lot of it to be coopetitive at this level. One former FRC coach told me $50,000 would get you a very competitive robot. Yikes! If I was on the board I would be worried too about how the current economic situation would affect FIRST.

· I know FTC was created for programs that do not have the kind of money or technical help needed for FRC but it is kind of treated like a minor league. While not intended, this attitude might prove counterproductive in the long-term.

· Now speaking of technical expertise, all six finalists came from large industrial or technology parts of the country. In fact almost all of the teams had either been champion or been in the final four. Two programs were hall of fame. Five of the six teams were from around the Detroit, Michigan area and the other one from Silicon Valley. They can draw on adult mentors who eat, sleep, and breathe advanced engineering and science. With this current setup these teams will always have a big competitive advantage over poor teams from rural areas. There is a lottery draw that allows teams to come to the championships but the $5000 entry fee, travel, food, lodging, and shipping costs are a big barrier to entry for some teams.

· General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford all sponsored teams and FIRST in general. Therefore, I guess we can say the U.S. Government besides NASA and the CIA (you read that right) are heavily involved in FIRST. One organization I did not see as a sponsor of any kind was the United Auto Workers. Because they don’t seem to want to give on helping the auto industry they need all the good will they can get. Also, with five of six final teams from around the Detroit area it is a good bet the children of good dues paying UAW members are participating. Don’t tell me the UAW doesn’t have the money. If the union can sponsor a NASCAR race every year they can sponsor some FIRST teams. These kids could help save all those union jobs in the future.

· Instead of sponsoring the finalist teams, General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford should hire these kids – NOW! Apparently they can design, engineer, and build machines that can kick the rear ends of foreign competition. Something current designers and engineers at the big three auto makers seem unable to do. Again, maybe these kids can save the American automotive industry.

Either volunteer with a team or start a team. If you are unable to do that then volunteer to help at a regional, state, or the international competitions. It is hard work but also a lot of fun and you will meet all kinds of interesting people.