this is so worthwhile


hi there – coming at you LIVE from the westin buckhead in beautiful, muggy atlanta. i just had linguine in white clam sauce – frankly, too much linguine. safely back in my hotel room, i unbuttoned my jeans and heaved a deep sigh and turned to the ever-trusty google to do my robot bidding. what was the most newsworthy connection between robots and atlanta, i wondered?

well, back in april, the FIRST robotics championship was held here in the georgia dome. to get a sense of the competition, you can search for it on youtube, or just check this out:

chris anderson, blogging on geek dad over at wired filed a report about his adventures there, though he was more enamored of his LEGO Mindstorms UAV. go ahead and read the comments section – i dare you.

the description of the competition is pretty inspiring:

FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is a unique varsity sport of the mind designed to help high-school-aged young people discover how interesting and rewarding the life of engineers and researchers can be.

The FIRST Robotics Competition challenges teams of young people and their mentors to solve a common problem in a six-week timeframe using a standard “kit of parts” and a common set of rules. Teams build robots from the parts and enter them in competitions designed by Dean Kamen, Dr. Woodie Flowers, and a committee of engineers and other professionals.

FIRST redefines winning for these students because they are rewarded for excellence in design, demonstrated team spirit, gracious professionalism and maturity, and the ability to overcome obstacles. Scoring the most points is a secondary goal. Winning means building partnerships that last.

(all bolds mine)

judging by the topics at the FIRST robotics championship conference, robots truly are for everyone, though this competition focuses on high school students. there were the sorts of uber-geek topics you’d expect:

  • Building and sustaining a community robotics program
  • Overall robot design & strategy
  • Integrating design & engineering concepts to the robot development process
  • Pneumatic power concepts
  • Omni-directional drive systems

and then there were some topics that spoke to a higher social and cultural calling – and a real desire to integrate more kinds of people into the robot clan:

  • Leadership basics
  • Motivating yourself and your team members
  • The benefits of the FLL program for children with cancer
  • And what about minority kids?
  • Women in engineering: recruitment challenges and responses
  • FIRST scholarships: how will you pay for college?

but of course, not to be outdone by the other geeks in school – you know, the ones who will be writers and designers when they grow up – they also offered a few topics near and dear to a marketing geek’s heart:

  • Lights, camera, action: video journaling for robotics
  • Animation: ideation to creation
  • Blogs, podcasts and community service: extending the FLL theme beyond competition
  • and so on…

(at first i wasn’t sure of the lingo, but FLL stands for FIRST Lego League – a similar competition for younger kids (aged 9-14) to get them interested in science and engineering.)

most of my computer time these days is spent in front of powerpoint, google, youtube, flickr, facebook, blogger and twitter – but there was a day when i was definitely into the science of it all and sometimes rolled up my sleeves and got elbow deep in the guts of a computer or rocket or whatever. my parents put me and my brother in classes at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and i still think what i learned there was useful. even the driest bit of physics or chemistry or (obviously) robotics has a creative, storytelling side to it.

anyway, it’s late and i haven’t that much to say except congratulations to the winners, and that this is a fantastically worthwhile program that more kids should get involved in – if nothing else, it looks like great fun.

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