FIRST students and guests enjoy a full scale competition event, a college and career fair, and more! Guests are able to tour Team Pits to see team members working on their robots and have a chance to talk to students, visit the Roboticon Exhibit Hall to enjoy STEM demos, vendors and organizations, and learn more about technical, math and science career and college opportunities.
Whether it be FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST Tech Challenge or FIRST LEGO League, official competitions can be stressful. There's on-field performance, team scouting and judging, and all of that comes at the cost of teaching drivers and coaches the intricacies of the field. That is where the benefits of an off-season event come in. At an event like ROBOTICON Tampa Bay, teams don't need to worry about any of the additional aspects of a competition. Many teams use off-season events to teach new drivers and coaches without concern for performance.
This year, the FIRST Looks team got to speak with members of the local FIRST LEGO League programming team, global FIRST Tech Challenge team, program sponsors and teams from FIRST LEGO League, FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics Competition around the state of Florida.
It was so great to kick off our 2017 ROBOTICON Tampa Bay coverage with the wonderful and enthusiastic Stacey Jones, Regional Partner for South Florida FIRST LEGO League Jr. and FIRST LEGO League. This is her second year in her current role, but she wears many hats as she is also a Mentor for FIRST Robotics Competition Team SPAM #180.
Spend just a few minutes with Stacey or watch her out with the kids and you can't help but get excited about these awesome FIRST programs. Stacey's "all-in" approach gets the kids and families motivated to learn and problem solve through the creative, interactive play that FIRST encompasses.
One of the things that Stacey enjoys most is the teamwork and partnership with the other directors all over Florida. Together they are working towards making Florida the #1 FIRST LEGO League group in the U.S., with an impressive goal of 600 teams this year. She loves watching the kids come up with problems and their solutions through the FIRST Games, which this year involves the Human Water Cycle. She is always amazed with how bright the kids are and enjoys seeing them come up with such creative solutions, some of which actually get Patents.
After watching Stacey's interview, check out how easy it is to start your own FIRST LEGO League Chapter by visiting their website. It's as easy as getting a LEGO EV, then it's only $225 to register a new team and $75 to get a challenge kit. There's really no better way to get kids involved with something so fun and educational.
We are always inspired when we speak with students who take full advantage of all that FIRST has to offer. This was definitely the case with Briana McMurchie, who is a student at Middleton High School, a STEM Magnet school located in Tampa, FL. Brianna is a member and sub team lead for fabrication and chairman's award on FIRST Robotics Competition Team #1369 Minotaur.
This is Briana's second year coming to ROBOTICON Tampa Bay. She enjoys this event because it's a great place to teach new team members the ins and outs of FIRST Robotics and it's a great place to practice and compete without all of the pressure of an actual tournament. It's also great to get all of the FIRST Programs (FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST Tech Challenge, FIRST LEGO League, FIRST LEGO League Jr.) together in one place. Another aspect that she enjoys are the numerous volunteer opportunities.
Briana is very involved with her FIRST Robotics Competition team, and is also a big part of the outreach that her school supports, such as camps and robotics education. It was through a summer camp this year that she was able to introduce FIRST LEGO League to an elementary school nearby and, through that, started her own FIRST LEGO League team with these students.
To find out more about FIRST Programs, please visit their website.
One of the best things about FIRST is their amazing alumni. Which is why were were excited to get the chance to speak with Eric Chan, FIRST Alumni and President of the Purple Fire Robotics Club at Florida Polytechnic University.
Eric and his teammates were in attendance at 2017 ROBOTICON Tampa Bay for a couple of really great reasons. First, to show off and scrimmage the robot that the club built in the FIRST Tech Challenge Alumni Robot In One Weekend Challenge. They also came to volunteer at the event and for FIRST Outreach.
Although Florida Poly is a new university, only four years old, they've had an incredible turnout for Purple Fire Robotics with 70 new students to the club this year alone. The club members include many FIRST and VEX Alumni, as well as students who were not previously a part of a formal robotics team. The club builds robots and participates in various competitions and they also build custom items for other clubs at their school. They are currently working on the animatronics for a haunted house that is being built on campus this year.
You can get more information about the club on their website and follow them on Twitter.
The energy at a robotics tournament is almost unexplainable. It is truly electric. At first glance, a new observer may see a bunch of shy and serious kids busily scurrying around while working on various tasks for their teams. Some are repairing parts on the robots, some are going through inspections or helping set up the game field, while others are strategizing with members of other teams. Many of them are dressed in some type of costume. A first timer may think, wow this is different, as they enter this unique little world. And then the competitions begin and as the robots, that the kids work so hard to build, achieve the most difficult task, the crowd roars louder and with more enthusiasm than you even see at a high school basketball game. And when your kid, actual or mentee, learned to build and code and problem solve to create those cheers... you're hooked.
This is exactly what happened to Kalai Sankar when she first encountered this world. She was immediately FIRST's biggest fan. She then took her computer science degree and her passion for teaching Indian dance to children and combined those talents with her new love of robotics. She started off as a coach for one team and her passion soon grew to what is now the Shiva Robotics Academy, which is housed in a 3400 square foot facility in Jacksonville, Florida. They offer numerous camps and outreach programs with the simple mission of introducing robotics to as many students as possible.
This is the academy's fourth year attending ROBOTICON Tampa Bay. It's one of Kalai's favorite events as she feels it is well run and gives her students the opportunity to learn more about robotics and see all of the levels of FIRST at one great event.
Witnessing Kalai's love for FIRST Robotics is truly inspiring. To learn more about programs that the academy offers, visit their website.
Get some inside info on the best aspects of being involved with Roboticon Tampa Bay and FIRST from a few members of our FIRST Looks team. Jacob, Marissa and Scott share some of their favorite stories and their love of robotics during a quick break in the day's interviews.
Don't miss an opportunity to learn more about ROBOTICON Tampa Bay. You an check out all the fun by clicking here.
Learn more about FIRST and all it has to offer by visiting their
You can also learn more about our team, watch more interviews and check out our other special events as well as product & game reviews by visiting PLuGHiTzLive.com.
As the students continue along their journey in FIRST Robotics, they tend to move into leadership and mentoring roles. Erin Piacitelli, President of Middleton Robotics Club, is no exception. Erin has been coming to ROBOTICON Tampa Bay for years with her school's teams and she agrees that it's a great event to practice, train new team members and have a lot of fun.
Middleton High School is a STEM Magnet School in Tampa, Florida that places an emphasis on robotics in a really wonderful way. It's not just a club, the kids also have robotics classes as part their curriculum. They take their teams and competitions very seriously. Middleton's Robotics Club currently has 1 FIRST Robotics Competition Team, 2 FIRST Tech Challenge Teams and 1 VEX Robotics Team. The students are able to participate in any aspect of the process that they would like and all the teams are there for each other to help brainstorm and mentor. They even mentor middle school students and invite them to join in on the development and brainstorming sessions to help them get involved and know the process when they get to high school.
Their structure is quite impressive. It's a collaborative effort that has strengthened over the years with a tiered leadership approach. The club itself has captains and vice presidents, comprised of students, with specialized roles. Then each individual team has a coach and at least one adult mentor.
The more we learn about the Engineering and Robotics Program at Middleton High School in Tampa, Florida, the more we like it. Russell DeSousa, Head Designer for Masquerade (FIRST Tech Challenge 4997) and a Senior Mentor for the Middleton Robotics Club, stopped by to give us the inside scoop.
Middleton's STEM Programs include Engineering, Biomedical, Game Design and Digital Electronics. The engineering program is structured with engineering design the first year, which transitions students from traditional learning methods and helps them adapt to the learning style offered in the program. Through the next two years, the students take Computer Integrated Manufacturing, Digital Electronics and Principles of Engineering. Then in their senior year, they take Engineering Design & Development, which is a yearlong Capstone Project.
Russell feels that being involved in FIRST Robotics really enhances this curriculum because he can get out of an engineering class and put what he learns to practical use, sometimes almost immediately.
Check out Middleton Robotics Club here to learn more about their teams. And don't forget to visit their Facebook page.
The creators of ROBOTICON Tampa Bay work very hard every year to grow this fun filled weekend into the amazing event that it is today. Their passion and dedication definitely shines through in the smiles and excitement of the students. They were honored to have the Director of FIRST Tech Challenge, Ken Johnson, join in on the fun. And we were thrilled to get a chance to speak with him.
As director, Ken is responsible to develop the program, which includes the game, rules and field field. Another important aspect is partnering with those that execute the program, outreach and events like ROBOTICON. His role is to help coaches succeed, finding funding to hold the events and building volunteer communities, all under the umbrella of espousing technology and using it to the fullest potential.
Along with recognizing the hard work that the students put into their teams and robots, Ken is fully aware that FIRST would not be all that it is today without the many volunteers who help pull everything together. The sheer number of man hours is staggering. And he loves that many of them are FIRST Alumni. He feels that the best ambassadors of FIRST are the students that have gone through it and the coaches that have volunteered for it. They are truly the best advertisement that they have.
We encourage everyone to visit their website to learn about the different programs.
One topic that comes up on our shows often is the idea that great ideas come from things that suck. In the case of SolidProfessor, the idea came from a lack of great training options for SolidWorks. The CAD software, which is popular with FIRST teams, has a lot of capabilities, but seemed to pose a challenge to a lot of people to learn. Tony Glockler co-founded the company in an attempt to create a scenario for students to learn the software in an interactive way, and also gives the students an easy way to refresh your skills.
The training, which has grown beyond just SolidWorks, allows students to turn their learning into certifications to enhance their abilities and their resumes. The company recognized the value of FIRST last season, and become a sponsor of the program. In fact, teams involved in a FIRST program can get a free subscription to SolidProfessor, to make their manufacturing capabilities better. Head to the company's website and reach out for your team's subscription.
One of the things that makes FIRST so interesting is the constant evolution of the program. In the beginning of FIRST Robotics Competition, teams were always based in high schools. Over time, schools joined forces to create teams while saving money. A few years ago, a new type of team was created for the first time: a team based out of a public library. Based at the Land O' Lakes Branch Library, the Edgar Allan Ohms have been a mainstay of FIRST Looks.
This year we were joined by Joanna Sanders, the team's safety captain. She talked about the early days of the team and how they work out of a library. The team builds in The Foundry, a makerspace built as a "fishbowl" within the library, allowing people to use power tools without interfering with other patrons. In exchange, the patrons can see what is happening within The Foundry, giving the team regular outreach opportunities.
At most FIRST events, you only get to see a single league, but at ROBOTICON Tampa Bay we get the opportunity to interact with everyone from FIRST LEGO League Jr. to FIRST Robotics Competition. We took advantage of the opportunity to speak with team members from FIRST LEGO League team 24334, the IncrediBotz. The team is made up of a group of friends who live in the same neighborhood who came together as a team after experiencing an outreach event.
These kids provide a very different perspective on FIRST for several reasons. First, as a rookie team last season, the team made it to the World Championship in Houston. They got to experience the height of the organization in their initial year, getting to see teams from across the country, but also some they knew from the State Championship. Some of the teams they met at the championship they still keep in contact with after the competition.
Second, their younger age provides a unique view of the other leagues. While students in FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics Competition are used to 3D printing parts and cutting metal, the FIRST LEGO League teams are more used to LEGO bricks. Getting to see the materials of the next levels, as well as the physical size and scale of the machines, gets the students excited about continuing their FIRST journey.
ROBOTICON Tampa Bay focuses a lot of it's attention on FIRST Robotics but the event holds so much more. This event also showcases some of the clubs from the University of South Florida such as the Society of Aeronautics and Rocketry, also known as SOAR. SOAR is a student run club that dedicates their free time to design, build, and understand rockets.
Our team was lucky enough to interview the President of SOAR, Jonathan Fitzer. He discussed the club's main objectives throughout the year from competition through NASA to real life work experience to aid future engineering employment. Learn more by going to the SOAR website.
Being apart of FIRST Robotics as a student can bring in a world of possibilities for you and your future. David Guzman is a prime example of this. In high school he was a member of FIRST Robotics Competition Team 1251 Tech-Tigers as the team's lead designer with mentors from Sonny's Enterprises, engineering and manufacturing for car wash equipment. After graduating high school, Sonny's was very impressed with his work in FIRST and was offered an internship.
Today, David is a mechanical engineer working full time with Sonny's leading the new product development in the engineering department. He talks about his journey from FIRST to employment and how he stays involved with FIRST to this day.
Middleton High School's Robotics Program has so much to offer to their students including a couple of FIRST teams up their sleeve. Elijah Bond, captain and lead builder for one of the teams, Masquerade (FIRST Tech Challenge 4997) detailed this year's FIRST Tech Challenge game along with their strengths and weaknesses for the season.
Elijah is currently a senior at Middleton High School and this is his third year working with Masquerade. Starting the season as the new captain, he discusses the requirements necessary to acquire the position and the steps he took to get there.
With multiple teams at the school, including two FIRST Tech Challenge teams, there is a process to determine which team you'll be on. This is to make sure neither team overpowers the other, and neither team becomes too large. Elijah describes the process, and how he came to be on Masquerade.