It was snow and ice on January 4th, 2014 at Hillcrest High School in Utah where I attended my first FIRST kickoff session. It was cold on the outside, but inside the school the bagels were warm and the anticipation was hot. Dozens of teams and hundreds of kids waited in anticipation for the announcement of this years competition game. “Would it be like last year?” “Will it involve a ball or a frisbee? Will the robots have to work together or compete independently” On and on you could hear the questions and feel the excitement. Some of these kids were rookies, and some teams were experienced.
At the appointed time all teams, mentors, captains, and volunteers met in the auditorium to view the broadcast, the webcast of this years game. The lights dimmed, the wifi strained, and finally the presentation began. “Aerial Assist” came the announcement. “What could this mean” The video explanation and animation progressed. “AERIAL ASSIST(SM) is played by two competing Alliances of three robots each on a flat 25’ x 54’ foot field, straddled by a truss suspended just over five feet above the floor. The objective is to score as many balls in goals as possible during a two (2)-minute and 30-second match. The more Alliances score their ball in their goals, and the more they work together to do it, the more points their Alliance receives.”
The excitement continued to raise as the demonstrations and simulations continued. “Oh, Yah!” “We can do that!” “How is it scored?” “How are the robots controlled?” “Oh, I see, each team has a robot alliances with other robots.” “Each robot is controlled by a team member in the end zone.”
By the end of the video, the kids were excited, the coaches were nervous, and it was time to go get the equally anticipated box of parts, robotic sub-assemblies pre-engineer to give all teams a good technical start on designing their robots.
As a seasoned engineer, I was amazed at what these kids needed to do over the coming weeks to design and build robots that would carry out the functions of moving, turning, throwing, catching, blocking, and maneuvering around the court. “Perhaps I underestimated these high school students. Well, here we go! The clock is running and in two months, lot’s of robots will be ready for the competition. I can’t wait. But for now, it’s time to buckle down and help these kids ask the right questions, develop good concepts, build great hardware, code amazing software, and get excited about engineering.”