One of the things that makes a FIRST team succeed is the ability to pass knowledge on from season to season. Under normal circumstances, a team expects to rotate members out every year, with a healthy portion staying and some graduating, to be replaced by freshman. Some seasons, however, a larger portion of the team graduates than others, leaving a lot of rookie members.
That is what FIRST Robotics Competition 6527, Short SirKit experienced this season. A large portion of their team were rookies (around 15), though about 5 veteran members remained, including Angel (a 2-year member), who spoke with Daniele and Marissa at the Orlando Regional. It meant that the veteran members all had to take on more of a mentoring role for the new students. Despite the higher number of rookie members, the team was doing well on the field; even better than last season.
Angel acts as a machinist on his team, working with tools like bandsaws, drill presses and a CNC machine, to produce the body and appendages for the robot. He finds the experience of FIRST to be fun, and he appreciates working with his team. Before joining the team he wasn't experienced with the tools he uses, and owes his knowledge to his 2 seasons with Short SirKit.
This team works differently from many other teams, as the team exists as part of a manufacturing class and a robotics class in school, which he heard about from his mother. After enrolling in the class, he was inspired to go into machining as a career after high school. Because the team is run as a class, it means that activities are graded, but there is not as much time for the social aspects of FIRST.
So it's no secret to say that the Orlando Regional Competition is one of our favorites. And one of the best parts of our coverage is when Terri Willingham stops by for a chat. Terri was formerly a Regional Director with FIRST. She loved organizing these events and working closely with the teams as they navigated their way through the robotics program. Her new position, as Director of the Foundation for Community Driven Innovation (FCDI), is her most rewarding role yet.
Terri and her husband Steve are now able to take all of the knowledge gained with FIRST a step further with the foundation and AMRoC (Advanced Manufacturing and Robotics Center). They are in the process of building out this manufacturing and robotics center that will be home to a permanent FIRST Robotics Competition field, as well as an FIRST Tech Challenge field and a couple of FIRST LEGO League tables. It will give students a place to come to be creative, build their robots and then test and practice. The dream is to have the makerspace easily accessible with all of the tools available for building and repairs.
Everything started to come together about a year ago when Terri applied for an Argosy Foundation Grant. The application of these funds, as well as other donations, have been disbursed directly to local community groups and programs, such as Robotics Tampa Bay and FIRST teams. It's tough to make real changes when trying to tackle challenges as a national level. She now realizes that by concentrating her efforts hyper-locally, it is easier to leverage community engagement. Thus putting money, manufacturing and jobs in the community. The philosophy is basically that we can change the world in our own back yards and then scale it up from there. At the local level, you can apply a thousand dollars and see actually the impact it creates.
Make sure to watch our interview with Terri and learn more about all of her exciting upcoming ventures. Then stay tuned to watch them grow and even join in the efforts by volunteering along with all of us.
Who doesn't love it when a Jedi stops by for a chat? Well, we might enjoy it a little more than your average interviewers, but that's okay.
It was great to get to know Joao with FIRST Robotics Competition 5557, BB-R8ERS. Once again it was so refreshing to see how excited and motivated a 1st year team member can be. He is a freshman in high school and this his initial exposure to FIRST. When he was looking into which high school he wanted to attend, he chose his current school because of the tech classes offered and the robotics program. He thought it would be a great opportunity to learn a lot and also have a lot of fun.
Joao started off on the electrical team at the beginning of the season and then moved over to the business side. He even presented the Chairman's Award here at the competition. His goals for the future are to get back involved on the electrical team and hopefully become a lead, while still helping out in business.
While we were talking with him about how the team was doing at the competition this year, they were actually currently on the field competing behind us. It was fun to look back and see them in action with all of their teammates cheering them on, light sabers in hand. Many were in costume and you could feel the team spirit all the way up to our booth. There are currently about 35 members on the robotics team. They start out as Padawans when they are rookies and build their way to being lead and mentor Jedi Masters.
One thing Joao loves is how even though this is a technical field, it has the feeling of a large sporting event. That is something that we at FIRST Looks also really enjoy. And if you are looking to also get inspired by FIRST, this is the interview that you are looking for. Check it out and let us know what you think.
One of our favorite things to do here at FIRST Looks is to get to know the teams from other countries. It always fun to connect with them both culturally and professionally. And it's wonderful to find that they have just as much passion and enthusiasm about FIRST as we do here in this country.
It was great to get to know Danielle from FRC 6404, Brazilian Storm. She is a sophomore at her high school in Brazil and was previously on an FIRST LEGO League team for four years. This is her 1st year on this FIRST Robotics Competition team and the transition to the larger robots was a little scary at first. This is also her first time coming to the United States. She's having a blast here at the Orlando Regionals. Her favorite thing is seeing the passion from the students here and watching all of the robots at work.
The team was faring well at the competition, even with a couple of early setbacks. They had a couple of issues in transit with a couple of their Visa's and some lost luggage. Also, they had to ship their robot in multiple packages due to size and weight restrictions and then rebuild it first thing when they got here. They are such a strong and resilient team and didn't let anything hold them back from enjoying the competition. The FIRST Looks control room also had fun chatting with her fellow teammates behind the scenes.
We've had the chance to interview numerous FIRST students over the last few years, each with varying degrees of experience on their team. Sydney with FRC 3932, Dirty Mechanics, has been on the team for 5 years. She's had a chance to be involved in just about every aspect in the process. She started out on the build team and through the years has moved more into the business side of things. Her current position is BME Team Leader. She is in charge of Business, Marketing and Entrepreneurship, which covers all of the awards presentations, essays, leadership and team outreach.
Sydney has been to the Orlando Regional Competition for 4 out of her 5 years on the team. She loves this huge, open and fun event. It's like being at a major sporting event rather than at a robotics competition. And her team usually does well at the competition. Of course there are different challenges that occur with the robot, most often with things like timing. But the team is proud that they always work together and get everything on track in time to compete.
She is loving her final season on the team and just enjoying everything. It's a good feeling to be a senior member and assist the team from that perspective. And as this is her senior year in high school, she is grateful to be getting expert assistance with her college applications and has gotten great letters of recommendation from her robotics mentors. And even though she's not quite sure exactly what direction she will go as far as her major is concerned, she's not worried at all because she is bringing along all of the confidence that FIRST has instilled in her. She knows that she still has some time to decide on the perfect career. She is also already looking forward to continuing on as a volunteer/mentor in the future.
We have returned for the 20th Annual FIRST Robotics Competition Orlando Regional. There are 64 teams competing, including one from the Netherlands, and three rookie teams. We speak with representatives from several of the teams, including some of the longest-running teams in Florida, as well as rookie teams. In addition, we speak with the team from the Netherlands about their incredibly unique experience.
This year celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the Orlando Regionals and we had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Woodie Flowers, who was in attendance to mark the occasion. Woodie, an emeritus professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has a distinguished résumé with an impressive list of honors and achievements. In our circles, however, he is best known as being the co-founder of FIRST Robotics Competition, along with Dean Kamen in 1992. It was Woodie who coined the phrase and environment of Gracious Professionalism, which is truly a cornerstone value in this amazing organization.
It was great to get his perspective on how FIRST has evolved over the years and the direction for the future. We've come from simplistic beginnings of having the robots decipher colors to using vision technology with the use of cameras that take the robots capabilities to the next level. But it doesn't stop with how advanced the robots get. There's a lot more to it. There's a responsibility that comes with such rapidly advancing technology because although it's wonderful to have all of these new capabilities at our fingertips, there are always those out there who will use the progress for nefarious purposes. The fact that FIRST has already built in a culture of honesty, graciousness and truth seeking gives these students a tremendous edge for facing such obstacles in the future. The kids are also given the understanding that although they have the advantage of likely being very successful in their future careers, they also need to teach others along the way.
Make sure to watch this insightful interview with Woodie. He has a special way of understanding and appreciating the advancements in the world of technology and seeing beyond to how it can impact society as a whole. His favorite part of this journey with FIRST is the underlying philosophy of what they do.
You can't help but be inspired when you see someone who worked hard to create a team and even overcome some of the hardest challenges, especially when that person is a junior in high school. Janelle with FIRST Robotics Competition 7194, iRam is proof that hard work and dedication pays off.
After taking a STEM class in middle school, Janelle knew that she wanted to also pursue it in high school and decided that a robotics team was the way to go. Her school in New Port Richey, Florida did not have a FIRST Robotics team but she didn't let that stop her. As she went about making this goal a reality, she knew that they needed to get everything in order before actually joining FIRST in order to be as successful as possible. They started out by taking their time to recruit teammates. They accomplished this by spreading the word through pep rallies and fundraisers. They took a hands on approach with their classmates by showing them the cool things that they could make.
Along the way, they learned about the fundamentals of FIRST, like teamwork and gracious professionalism and how important it is to help everybody reach their goals. And although it seemed kind of strange at first to help out the competition, they soon realized how great it felt to do just that, especially when it's for a team that has helped yours.
Watch Janelle's interview to find out more about this inspiring young lady and the challenges she and her team are facing and how they are doubling down to turn their setbacks into growth.
We never run out of interesting topics when it comes to our interviews with this fan favorite. After all, he wears a lot of different hats. Chuck Stephens is a mentor for FIRST Robotics Competition and FIRST Tech Challenge, a Board Member of the Foundation for Community Driven Innovation (FCDI), part of the Eureka Factory and he works for the Pasco Country Library System. We always learn a during our chats with Chuck, and we have a lot of fun too!
Chuck is currently the mentor/coach of the first ever library based FIRST Robotics Competition team, the Edgar Allan Ohms, who are here competing at the Orlando Regional today. They are based out of the Regency Park Library where they design, build and test their robots.
There is also a lot going on in the Pasco County Library system. Chuck and his coworkers are committed to ensuring that libraries continue to be a place where people can reach their potential. And we have to say that we certainly are impressed. It is refreshing to see how these library branches are reinventing themselves and not only staying relevant but giving back so much to their communities. Not only are there maker spaces where someone can come to learn a craft or teach their favorite hobby, but there are music and recording studios where they can come explore and dabble in an area that they may only have dreamed about. There's also upcoming cooking classes and a community garden in the works.
Chuck is also involved with Gulf Coast Maker and Comic Con and ROBOTICON Tampa Bay. Check out his interview to find out all of the exciting new programs that the library, Eureka Factory and FCDI have in the works.
The culture of learning and inclusion that FIRST embraces is facilitated by the mentors who help these kids adapt and grow. FIRST truly has the best mentors!
Take, for example, Drew with FIRST Robotics Competition 3627, Jungle Robotics. He is the mentor for the Sarasota County School District. Drew started his career in animation and design and is now teaching robotics and engineering after the students sought him out to get involved in FIRST Robotics Competition. It's easy to tell that it is a position that he takes seriously and brings a passion for STEM learning with him. He's there for the team every step of the way, from the first day of planning and build to outreach programs and team building exercises. He also helps them realize that win or lose, they take the experience along with them.
Drew is also a part of the Scouts, acting as the District Vice Chair in charge of STEM. And although one doesn't normally see a correlation between the Boy Scouts and Robotics, after spending a few minutes with Drew, we were left wondering why we had never put it together ourselves. STEM is actually integral in the teachings of the Scouts, in almost everything that they do. And now they are designing badges, medals and programs that are specific to robotics, gaming and graphic design.
Check out our interview with Drew to find out more about the exciting Scout programs that promote STEM as well as his current FIRST Robotics Competition team and plans to expand in the future.
After all of the years that our staff has been a part of the FIRST experience, whether as team members, volunteers or mentors, you would think that we would have lost that sense of excitement and wonder around these kind of events. Oh, but it's actually quite the contrary. We still love being right in the middle of it all. The best part of producing FIRST Looks for us is when we talk with a student who really just gets it. We certainly had a lot of fun getting to know Estavan from FIRST Robotics Competition 945, Banana Robotics.
At the time of the competition, Estavan was a Senior at Colonial High School in Orlando. And if he didn't tell us that this was his first year on the robotics team, we definitely would not have known. He had all of the charm and charisma of a FIRST Veteran, that's for sure. He was recruited to the team by his Calc teacher who knew of his excellent reputation in the Auto Club at school. Everybody knows that he's good with building and fixing and knows how to make things work. So it was natural for him to join the team and get right to work on this student built robot. He admits that it's not the best looking robot, but it meets specs and gets the job done.
Check out his interview to find out about the pressures of the build, the amazing team spirit and the pun (I mean fun) they had along the way. Speaking with Estavan and learning about his team was truly inspiring and is one of the things that makes us love what we do.
FIRST inspires students in not just the United States but all over the world! Working internationally gives students a chance to learn from others with different backgrounds and education to accomplish the same goals within FIRST. This year at the 2018 FIRST Robotics Competition Orlando Regionals, we had an appearance from Impossible Robotics FIRST Robotics Competition team 5412 from the Netherlands.
The FIRST Looks crew discovered how teams from the Netherlands operate while speaking with Impossible Robotics' mentor, Henk. Henk discussed the strict schooling system that their team undergoes during the FIRST Robotics Competition season and this made it hard for students to leave for competition. As a result, only one student on their team was able to come to the FIRST Robotics Competition Orlando Regionals this year.
Many would believe that being at a competition with only one member present would be impossible but that is not the case in FIRST. With a little help from some of the local teams and a dash of Gracious Professionalism, Impossible Robotics persevered!
FIRST Robotics Competition Team 6473, Rock Star Robotics, is one of few Boys & Girls Club teams that has made it this long. The team started out in 2010 as a FIRST LEGO League team and has evolved into four current teams: two FIRST LEGO League teams, one FIRST Tech Challenge team, and one FIRST Robotics Competition. At the 2018 FIRST Robotics Competition Orlando Regional, we got the chance to speak with Edwin, the captain of the FIRST Robotics Competition team. As the team captain, he gets to oversee everything that happens within the team, helping as much as he can in each category.
Edwin has been on Rock Star Robotics for 4 years now and is finishing strong with his senior year by helping the team get to the Orlando Regional. He explains some of the challenges he has faced getting to this point but all of it was worth it because it's "as fun as being a rock star." Edwin is excited for his future where he plans to study engineering at Florida Institute of Technology as well as sticking to his roots and volunteering with FIRST at events while mentoring as an alumni.
Sometimes when we have a live show for a FIRST event, we get so caught up in setting up the studio and lining up our interviews that we don't really get a chance to truly enjoy everything that is going on around us. This year, we arranged for a little extra time before the interviews began. This gave Scott and Daniele an opportunity to discuss this years game as well as look back to previous years. We got the opportunity to speak with some of the student ambassadors about the game and exactly how it worked.
The game maintains many of the elements that we know and love about FIRST Robotics Competition. The driving stations are located where we expect on the short ends of the field. There are the same number of robots on the field, with three robots working together on each of the two teams. There are consistent stages of play, with autonomous, tele-op and the end game. We even see some familiar game elements, like a balance element in autonomous and climbing in the end game.
While the game plays similar to previous games in theory, there are some distinct differences. The biggest difference is the introduction of passive scoring. By controlling the angle of a few large scales around the board, teams can score points every second, while continuing to move around the board. Usually, once you perform an action, you receive points and move on, but not in this game. The scoring mechanisms allow for much higher scoring, but doesn't guarantee it.
Another difference is giving the human players a choice in how they interact. Usually, the players have a particular task to perform, like placing gears in the airships during Steamworks. This year, the players have a choice when receiving the blocks: they can either pass them back into play, or place them into a stack to try and score power ups later in the game. Again, this adds a fascinating dynamic, by creating additional variables for gameplay.
On any FIRST team, thee are a lot of roles. Every team needs someone to build, someone to program, someone to design a logo, someone to keep the team organized, someone to drive, someone to help with outreach, and that is just a small selection of the tasks for these teams. When you're on an FIRST LEGO League team, you have to be responsible for more than one role, because with only about 10 students, there is not a single person for each responsibility.
In the case of FIRST LEGO League 29141, Robo-Dragons, they like to show their fellow team members and competitors what responsibilities they had on the team. This is accomplished with badge ribbons for each role a member held. For Hannah, she held 5 roles, ranging from artist to master builder. For Zaid, he held 6 roles, not including being the mascot at the event.
As with most FIRST teams, Hannah says that the team works really well together, and the team are all good friends. That is a positive statement for a member who has only just joined the team this year. Her interest in robotics comes from a different place from many of the students in the program: she wants to be an archaeologist, and is interested in automating some of the tools used.
Zaid says that everyone want to be the mascot for the team, but he gets the honor of being mascot for the competition. In good mascot style, he was able to stay in good spirits and keep the team positive, even when the performance on the field was not perfect. He also says that his favorite part of FIRST is working with and learning from the members of his team.
There are a lot of aspects to a FIRST team that go beyond just building the robot. When it comes to FIRST LEGO League, one of those "More than Robots" aspects is called Core Values. Described by Landon from FIRST LEGO League 19359, RoboRaptors, Core Values is about both having fun at the competition, but also maintaining a good spirit while competing against and cooperating with other teams. Landon is the student in charge of Core Values for his team, as well as programming the robot.
Landon is in his third year with his team, and is excited about the enhancements the team has made for the current season. Their goal was to be able to perform more than one mission at the same time, without having to have the robot return to base to get hardware swapped out. To accomplish this, the team added more sensors to the robot, as well as focusing on new building techniques to allow the robot to carry more attachments.
Landon, like many FIRST participants, enjoys the social aspects of his team. It's a great place for kids to meet other kids who share a common interest and reach for a goal together. Personally, his favorite part of reaching for the robot goal is in building. He likes building the robot, building attachments - just seeing it come together.
After this season, he is considering moving up to his school's FIRST Tech Challenge team, which he is excited about. He believes the additional challenge will help him in his goal of becoming a biomedical engineer in the future.
If you have never participated in a FIRST event, whether it be a student, mentor, volunteer or spectator, it might be hard to believe that one of the hardest jobs is emcee. Even for an event the size of this regional, it requires two emcees to make it work. We spoke with Dr. Smash, one of the two voicing the event.
Dr. Smash, in addition to her duties at this event, is also the mascot of her FIRST Robotics Competition team, 2152 SMASH. She is making her appearance at the event from Daytona Beach, Florida, which is about 2 hours from the competition. This is actually not an unusual scenario, as volunteers that are very dedicated to the program can drive across Florida every weekend for competitions of all of the programs. Dr. Smash has been volunteering with FIRST for the last 9 years, and cannot count how many competitions she has volunteered at.
She continued to volunteer because she simply loves to see the students happy, and to give the parents an opportunity to have a safe place for the kids to play and learn. She also enjoys being in the emcee seat, hearing from the students all day long. One of her favorite moments ties both of these together, seeing the students excited to see her when she attends an event.
At some point every year, we get the pleasure of speaking with the Orlando Regional Director, to get insight into the event, which is one of the longest continuously-running FIRST Robotics Competition competitions. This year, the event celebrates its 20th anniversary and welcomes a new Director to oversee the proceedings: Wendy Austin.
Wendy has been involved in FIRST for many years, having been directly involved with an FIRST Robotics Competition team, and then volunteering at events, including the Orlando Regional, for several years. This year, she has the honor of being the Regional Director, though she does admit that there is some nervousness involved with taking over for the anniversary. Luckily, there is a committee that works together to plan the event. In fact, a lot of the details were in-place before Wendy even took the job.
Wendy is very excited about a number of the exciting plans for the regional. For example, there is a social gathering, which will allow the students from the various teams to interact with one another without the hustle and bustle of either the field or pits behind them. There is also a first-of-its-kind coin that will be available, which is a tradition taken from the upper ranks of the military. The Regional also plans on hosting several special guests from FIRST HQ, including Michelle Long, who oversees Alumni Programs for the organization.
While it might be a scary time to take the reigns, it seems Wendy has it in-hand.
In FIRST teams, sometimes the coach of a team can be an adult, and sometimes it can be a student. In the case of FIRST LEGO League 10240, Aqualifters, their coaching is done by student Chloe. This, of course, does not mean that the faculty of the school, where the team is based, is uninvolved, but they have given some of the responsibility to Chloe. For example, she ensures that her fellow teammates are following the team checklist and sometimes leads team discussions.
As an 8th grader, it means that this will be her last year on the team. When she moves on to high school next year, she plans on joining one of their FIRST Tech Challenge two teams: Roarbots and Den in Black. For any student that has moved from FIRST LEGO League into FIRST Tech Challenge, there is always a bit of nervousness, but Chloe is looking forward to the new challenge. She hopes to learn both the physical and programming aspects of building a FIRST Tech Challenge robot.
After high school, she hopes to get into an engineering field, driven by her participation in FIRST. In addition to finding a path for herself after school, she also enjoys the social aspect of FIRST. While she is excited about her next steps in the program, she will miss the students she has been on her current team with for the past 2 years.
Hannah is a senior in high school and is the youth mentor of FIRST LEGO League 36321 Team W.I.L.D. She is also a FIRST Alumni, having competed on Team Fire from the 6th to the 8th grades. Hannah finds that although a lot stays the same in the realm of FIRST LEGO League (i.e. style of competition and student involvement), it is a very different experience to be a team mentor than member.
She notes that there is a different kind of stress involved in each scenario. As a team member, she felt the anxiety and excitement of the competition directly. Now as team mentor, she concentrates on being there to help the whole team succeed and making sure that everybody is properly equipped. So it's all new and different but still a lot of fun. She basically went from being the one who was encouraged to being the one who does the encouraging.
Hannah's favorite part about being the team's youth mentor is bringing everything that she has learned in the past to this team. She volunteers because FIRST meant so much to her when she was in middle school. Back then, she didn't know what she wanted to do for even an extracurricular activity, much less when she grew up. And it was being involved in FIRST that led her to decide that she wants to specifically direct her education towards a career in engineering. She now attends the Central Florida Aerospace Academy and looks forward continuing on in the engineering field.
It's clear that it is also very important to Hannah to pay it forward. Not only is it fun and rewarding to volunteer and be a mentor, but she loves helping the kids learn, work on their projects and to also show them how many wonderful opportunities they have. She also gets a kick out of seeing the looks on their faces when they accomplish difficult tasks and the concepts finally click. Being there to guide them through their own work and problem solving is the best part.
The coaches, mentors, volunteers and staff that are involved in FIRST all have a common goal in mind of helping the kids be inspired and learn. Individually we contribute in our own way to help the kids build their robots for competition. Collectively we ensure that the competitions are engaging, motivational and organized. But in the end, we end up learning and being inspired by the kids themselves.
Today we had the most wonderful conversation with Megan from FIRST LEGO League 5586, Hydro Kittens Vol. 2. Megan is a rookie on the team, but if she hadn't told us that, we definitely would not have guessed. She has the enthusiasm of a seasoned veteran.
Megan joined FIRST LEGO League at the suggestion of her older brother who had been a member for 3 years. She admits that she is not the engineering type and just thought she'd try it out. It turns out that she loves it and is very involved with the team. Her favorite things to do on the team is program the robot. She also really enjoys working on the project, skits and props.
Megan and her team have the core values down pat and she explained how they practice them in their everyday lives. We learned a lot from Megan and can't wait to see her again at future FIRST events.
Austin is a junior in high school and is currently on FIRST Tech Challenge Team 11619, Rust in Pieces. Although his team hasn't formally competed in a tournament yet, they have built a robot and completed all of the challenges on their practice field. Their goal for 2018/2019 is to compete and make their way to Nationals.
This year is Austin's first year volunteering with FIRST LEGO League here at the 2018 Regional Competition. And although he originally signed up to help fulfill his requirement for volunteer hours, he quickly realized how important his role has been. Along side this teacher, who is also the robotics coach from his high school, Austin has been helping to set up the fields and pit area. He signed up for two days of volunteering but when he saw that there was still a lot of help needed and how dedicated his coach was to this effort, Austin cancelled his plans and came back to help for a 3rd day.
FIRST has inspired Austin to incorporate his passion for art with all that he is learning in technology and robotics. He feels that the world is full of problems that end up getting glorified instead of solved. From his point of view, he acknowledges that technology is the future but he also can see that art and history is what has gotten us here. This is something that we at PLuGHiTz also feel quite strongly about. We feel that STEM is nothing without Art and therefore should remain STEAM. It is so refreshing to come across a teenager who is learning this concept organically on his own, as he goes through his classes and hobbies. Austin in another example of how we should never underestimate these kids.
Anybody who has ever been involved in a team sport knows that the coaches can either make or break the experience. One of the best things about FIRST is the dedication and enthusiasm of the team coaches. Whether they join because of their own love of robotics or to be supportive of their child's aspirations, so many of the coaches are making an impact on these kids in the most wonderful way.
Steve, coach of FIRST LEGO League 9811 (Da Flyin Ewoks), is a perfect example. As a 5th grade teacher in Ormond Beach, FL, Steve was approached by a neighbor who was involved with an FIRST Robotics Competition team that wanted to create more of a network in the area where kids could progress up into the higher levels of FIRST. It wasn't long before Steve was on board and became the coach of this FIRST LEGO League team. And although they have gone through some changes is format, team names and grades, they continue to expand and work their way to the Regional Competition every year.
For the first three years, the team was comprised of only rookie members each year. Now in their 4th year, they retained two members from last year. This has been a good change as the veterans have been able to mentor the rookies and offer their experience to the team.
Steve has found that he is able to incorporate all that he teaches in the 5th grade into coaching for FIRST LEGO League in a way that is exciting for the kids. The kids love it so much, they make sure to fit in the practices around all of their other extracurricular activities. And Steve loves to take kids who are completely new to FIRST and watch them move up to the larger robots after just one year. He also has a lot of fun having his daughter on the team.
Elana is a 5th grade student who is currently on FIRST LEGO League Team 32160, The Water Fountains. She is enjoying her first year very much and loves the crazy things that her team does to make it a fun experience. Their cool hats really say it all.
Programming is Elana's favorite thing to do on the team. She has learned, though using NXT, that some of the programs are easy and some are more difficult to figure out. She also enjoys working on the missions. Right now they are working on a flower project where they are using water to get a flower to stand upright in a pot.
Being new to FIRST, she found the qualifying tournaments and judging to be scary in the beginning, but even though she started out nervous, she quickly found out how much fun they are and made it through with ease. She loves the science aspect of FIRST and how they problem solve throughout the process. She plans to continue in the field of science and hopes to get into CSI when she grow up.
When we're at a regional competition, it doesn't matter if we're talking to a seasoned member of a FIRST team or to a rookie, we can definitely feel their excitement and enthusiasm. This was the case when we sat down with Brice from FIRST LEGO League 36321 Team W.I.L.D.
And even when someone is new to the team, they quickly become an integral part of their planing an success. Brice is the main spokesperson for the team and also works a lot on the robot table and the project. He enjoys doing the research and finds it interesting how learning one thing leads to a lot more to explore. It's a lot of work but it's very fun.
Although he originally found the competitions to be a bit intimidating, he quickly got use to it and realized how much fun they are. He really likes talking to the kids on the other teams about the theme and their different robots. He enjoys learning about their process and interacting with so many others who have common goals.
Brice is currently in the 8th grade and he looks forward to continuing with FIRST and joining either FIRST Tech Challenge or FIRST Robotics Competition in the future.
He's knowledgeable. He's energetic. He's full of STEM spunk. That's right, our favorite FIRST Volunteer Coordinator and Emcee is back... time to create a frequent guest punch card for the one and only, Barry Bonzack.
When you are around Barry, especially at a FIRST Competition, you can't help but feel inspired. He has a way of turning an already fun event, into a complete blast. The organizers love him, his fellow volunteers love him and most importantly, the kids love him! Whether it's calling a match, sparking a dance party in between rounds or fitting in time to be interviewed, Barry brings his unique enthusiasm to every task.
One thing about Barry that really inspires us is that once you get to know him, you find out that he is not an engineer. As a kid on a FIRST team, he discovered that you don't have to be the one who designs and builds the bots to be a very important part of the team. He learned that his planning and business skills were every bit a part of making the team a success. He started volunteering with FIRST while at the University of Central Florida as a mentor for a team and was able to get an internship with Lockheed Martin, who sponsored the team.
Barry now uses his business background in his career with Lockheed Martin at NASA on the Orion Program. And he carries his passion for Business and STEM forward as he Inspires and Recognizes Science & Technology every single day. Thank you, Barry, for being a FIRST advocate and volunteer! And as always, thank you for taking some time to join us on the show!
You can keep up with Barry and some of the really cool things he does at the Kennedy Space Center by following him on Twitter.
We had a blast getting to know Hope from FIRST LEGO League Team 8152, the RoboGeeks. Hope is 11 (going on 12) and is in her third year on the team. With her seniority and experience, she now mainly acts in a supportive role and fills in wherever she is needed at any given time. She tends to do a lot of the programming and does a lot of the missions, which she loves. And she occasionally jumps into the building and modifying process when needed.
Her favorite part of being part of FIRST LEGO League, besides programming the robots, is having the opportunity to figure out solutions to the problems they come across during the process. She loves that they work on a problem that arises and then learn how to fix it themselves. She finds learning to be the best part.
She also loves the anxiety and excitement of coming to competitions. The team currently has 8 members, three of which are girls. You can tell how well their team works together and that they have a lot of fun. They have a lot of cheers and love to keep the fun going.
Hope looks forward to continuing with FIRST as she moves from elementary to middle school. She can't wait to get into programming even more by learning Java and HTML. And although she isn't exactly sure what she wants to do when she grows up, she does want to keep pursuing her love of coding.
For more information about FIRST, check out their website.
The only thing better than attending a FIRST event that is being managed by JT Yoerger is getting the chance to sit down and talk with him for a few minutes. His energy and love of all things FIRST are not only contagious, but his hard work and dedication make the events that he hosts truly wonderful for the kids in the league.
As Senior Manager of Events, Marketing & Communications for FIRST LEGO League programs in Central Florida, JT manages about 50 events per year. These events include outreach, fund raising, prequalifying and qualifying events, as well as state and national championships and summer conferences. He stays quite busy and it certainly pays off.
At FIRST Looks, we've had the opportunity to see JT in action a number of times over the last few years and we can attest to his attention to detail and level of organization. Most importantly, he makes it seem almost effortless while still ensuring that every cog in the wheel is well maintained. From managing the full time employees to the hundreds of volunteers, offering travel, catering and venue support and so much more. He fosters an environment in which all involved are able to work well together to support the event and most importantly, the kids.
As a FIRST LEGO League alumni himself, he knows the philosophy and games very well. He also knows how important it is to teach these kids FIRST's Core Values and facilitate an atmosphere of ingenuity and growth for them, along with the volunteers who generously give it all that they've got. For JT, it's really all about innovation and changing the world.
To find out more about FIRST LEGO League in Central Florida, you can visit their website at centralfloridarobotics.org. You can also check out the FIRST website here for general information and to find programs in all other areas.
This week, the team is privileged to attend our initial FIRST LEGO League competition. We get an opportunity to speak with some of the youngest members of the FIRST community, and see how participating in the program early in life can affect students. We also speak with an event organizer for this event, as well as the Regional Director for Orlando.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
FIRST competitions are complicated, multi-faceted events. Because of that, multiple broadcasts are possible from the same event. While we spend time highlighting team members, coaches, mentors, staff and sponsors, RoboVisionOD and The RoboShow focus more on the matches themselves. Dan Swando spoke with us about the net work and program and how they work in the community.
RoboVisionOD maintains a focus on broadcasting and publishing individual matches through YouTube, while The RoboShow features SportsCenter-style coverage of the elimination rounds of competition. These platforms allow people outside of Orlando to feel like they are at the competition. This is great for kids whose friends and family live out of town, as well as teams that are competing later in the season at another competition to get an idea of what other teams are working on. Both of these services are offered, just like FIRST events in person, for free online.
The team at PLuGHiTz Live is very proud of FIRST Looks. Since its inception, even before its name, we have worked hard to bring awareness to the FIRST brand. This series was inspired by one person, Terri Willingham, Regional Director for FIRST in Central Florida. She has been our representative at FIRST for years and, more importantly, a great friend.
FIRST STEAMWORKS is her last season with the organization and we will definitely miss her. We do, however, look forward to working with her on her new project, of bringing a robotics center to the Tampa Bay area. She and the Eureka! Factory are currently working with a few local organizations on finding a location for a permanent FIRST Robotics Competition field, two FIRST Tech Challenge fields and FIRST LEGO League setups as well. This will also help to bring brand recognition and student participation within the Tampa Bay market.
Not everyone at a FIRST competition is involved with a team. Some come to see how they, or their companies, can get involved with the organization. Some want to be sponsors, some want to be mentors and some see their companies as the next step after FIRST.
Greg Serio, who founded The People of Manufacturing, sees himself in a couple of these roles. His organization focuses on adult education in the manufacturing space, including matching apprentices with professionals in their field of interest. Greg discusses how FIRST students, after graduating, could find themselves additional on-the-job training in manufacturing and fabrication through this company. He also talks about his initial impressions of the event and his interests for the future.
We've gotten a lot of interesting viewpoints about competitions over the years. FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST LEGO League team members, coaches and sponsors, volunteers, Affiliate Partners, Regional Directors and organizers, but we have never seen all the way behind the curtain: a view from Headquarters.
We had the opportunity to speak with Gabrielle Golden, Manager of Field Operations for FIRST. She travels each weekend to various events to see how they are run and collects tips and tricks for other events. She tries to appear at new events, as well as events celebrating anniversaries, and can be at 2 different events in the same weekend. She talked about HQ's focus on Alumni and building loyalty after graduation, with a focus on what Barry Bohnsack has done in Florida. She also talked about our mutual goal of increasing FIRST's brand awareness.
With almost 20 years under its belt, the Orlando Regional is a great place for Regional Directors and Affiliate Partners to learn about some of the tips and tricks of running an event. This year the team was joined by the FIRST Tech Challenge Affiliate Partner for the Netherlands. Marieke Peelen was here to see some of the ins and outs of a FIRST Robotics Competition, with the intention of trying an event in Europe in the future.
Fortunately, the weekend wasn't all about work. She got the opportunity to talk to teams from all over the country, see the two FIRST Robotics Competition teams from the Netherlands compete on the field and even witness one team make it to the winning alliance, securing a spot at the Championship in Houston in April.
One of the things that currently exists within the Florida FIRST community that is fairly unique is our Alumni Association. This group, led by Barry Bohnsack, provides a variety of ways for students to continue their participation in FIRST programs after graduation. From volunteering with teams and at competitions to building competition-ready robots in a very short period, alumni have tons of opportunities.
We spoke with Barry about one of our favorite programs for alumni - the Robot in 3 Days (FIRST Robotics Competition) and Robot in a Weekend (FIRST Tech Challenge). This program encourages students at Florida universities to follow along with the game announcement video and build a robot for that game in a weekend. This season, at ROBOTICON Tampa Bay 2016, the Robot in 3 Days teams from around the state brought their machines for a scrimmage on the official FIRST Tech Challenge field. The idea of the program is to show current students what is possible with very little resources and time.
In the 4 years that we have been covering the Orlando Regional, we have had the opportunity to see teams grow from rookies into real competitors. We have also had the opportunity to see members of our group grow within the FIRST organization. Some students have become mentors and FIRST VISTAs, and we have had some students join our broadcast team.
One of those friends that has grown within the organization is Chuck Stephens. When we met him he was a house painter, musician, tinkerer and maker. Today he works for Pasco County Libraries where he is the mentor for the Edgar Allan Ohms FIRST Robotics Competition team, FIRST Tech Challenge Team Duct Tape will be moving to his libraries next season, and they will be starting FIRST LEGO League teams, as well. He has found a great way to take his extensive knowledge about a wide range of electronics and fabrication and help teach students.
One of the things that can sometimes be a challenge for our broadcast team at FIRST Robotics Competition early season events is getting a good grip on the game. Our team is far more familiar with FIRST Tech Challenge, so this event was our introduction to the game, outside of watching the announcement video during CES.
During a break in the broadcast, Scott and Daniele discuss what they do and do not understand about the game, and make guesses about the way that teams will and will not interact with certain aspects of the game. They might not have understood the nuances of the game, but they mostly have the basics.
Joining the Orlando Regional from California, we spoke to Martin Lizarraga from Searing Engineering. The team traditionally competed in San Diego, but every four years they like to branch out and experience a different environment. In the past they have competed in Hawaii, and this year they are in Orlando.
As a senior, Martin is a driver for the team, placing all of the pressure on his drive team's shoulders. While the engineering team has the pressure in the first 6 weeks, now it is up to him and his drivers. He discusses the design decisions that his team made, and which aspects of the game the team decided to focus on early on, and where they are focusing today. For example, shooting into the boiler was not generating enough points, so they pivoted to climbing, with the help of S.P.A.M. We also discuss his plans after high school, including his participation in FIRST clubs at his school of choice.
One of the great parts of being one of the oldest competitions in FIRST is that teams from all over the world travel to Orlando to compete. This year, in addition to the more common locations, like Brazil, the Orlando Regional welcomed two teams from Turkey and two from the Netherlands. Tamara Hanegraff from Team Rembrandts spoke to us about the unique challenges her team faces.
For example, while there is a growing FIRST Tech Challenge environment, there are only two FIRST Robotics Competition teams in the country. That means that there is not an official competition, or even a scrimmage, for the teams to participate in. Every season the teams travel to a different competition in the United States, where the largest concentration of tournaments exist.
While SigmaC@T Robotics doesn't have the smallest team number in Florida, they are the longest continuously operating FIRST Robotics Competition team in the state. In fact, the team has been around longer than the Orlando Regional itself, running 23 seasons.
We spoke with Maurice Solomon about his 4 years on the team. He has had a variety of positions over the years, including mechanical lead, captain and all-around guy. He started at his school with pottery and pivoted to robotics, which has kept his interest since. The team has changed a lot, but the support form their school, school board and sponsors has not.
Within the FIRST community, it is not unusual for a student to start in FIRST LEGO League and graduate into FIRST Tech Challenge or FIRST Robotics Competition. It is also not uncommon for a whole team to take that journey together. What is less common is a team moving through all three leagues, but that is exactly what the rookie Rock Star Robotics team has done.
Alexa Baires explains how she started with the team as a FIRST LEGO League member, upgraded to FIRST Tech Challenge and this year the team has joined FIRST Robotics Competition. With this unique view of FIRST, we talk about the differences between her experiences in the three leagues and what new challenges this season has presented that she has not experienced before.
We have returned for the 19th Annual FIRST Robotics Competition Orlando Regional. There are 63 teams competing, including several from the Netherlands, and seven rookie teams. We speak with representatives from several of the teams, including the longest-running team in Florida, as well as a rookie team that has previously participated in FIRST LEGO League and FIRST Tech Challenge. In addition, we speak with a team from California, as well as one of the teams from the Netherlands.
In addition to team members, we also speak with Gabrielle Golden from FIRST Headquarters, Terri Willingham, Regional Director in Central Florida and Dan Swando, a member of The RoboShow, who livestreams all of the matches for the event.
One of the most important aspects of the FIRST experience is outreach. Teams are encouraged to participate in events to spread the word about FIRST programs and STEAM in general. Some teams take this idea to an extreme - in a good way.
Jordan Shavell from FRC 1902, Exploding Bacon Robotics, spoke with us about the many aspects of her team. One unique aspect of Exploding Bacon is their new outreach initiative: FIRST Like A Girl. It encourages girls on FIRST teams around the world to tell their stories about their programs to show other girls why participating in STEAM fields, and FIRST in particular, is not only an option, but important.
FIRST Like A Girl also filmed interviews at ROBOTICON, adding a new 17 videos to the initiative. The team plans on building a curriculum to help other teams and regions get involved.
When it comes to FIRST, every student's experience is a little different. While some team members, like our own Daniele, join the program later in school, others join early. Brant Norris, the Co-Captain of FRC 1557, 12 Volt Bolt, falls into the latter category.
Starting in FIRST LEGO League at the age of 9, he joined 12 Volt Bolt after moving to the area. As a senior, he plans on going into electrical engineering, which was inspired by his time getting hands-on experience through FIRST.
Like many FRC team members this year, his most difficult and favorite aspects of Stronghold were both the same - the challenge presented by the variety of defenses on the field. He also plans on staying with FIRST after graduation, including mentoring teams.
While ROBOTICON Tampa Bay is not an official competition with Championship implications, they did welcome their first ever international team in 2016. FIRST Robotics Competition team 5606, Red Hurricane, traveled to Tampa from Shenyang, Liaoning in China specifically to compete in this off-season event.
RuoYi Lu, a Grade 11 student and captain of the team, talked with us about FIRST Robotics Competition in China, their first ever official regional in the country, the growing influence the program has on students and his hopes for the future of the program. He also discussed the team's participation in other international competition, namely the regional they usually attend in Australia.
Because Florida is such a large state, FIRST LEGO League is divided into several smaller leagues to provide easier competition for the teams. Beth Hanning is the Affiliate Partner for Northwest Florida, and is responsible for helping to organize events, get teams started and to teach the leaders of the teams. She spoke with us about some of the details of her position, and what she enjoys most - coaching coaches and coaching teams. She also helped to explain this year's FLL game information.
Beth is also involved with the SOFWERX facility in Tampa. This facility is a partnership between the Doolittle Institute and United States Special Operations Command, which is also located in Tampa, "to assist with collaboration, innovation, prototyping and exploration with industry, labs and academic partners."
Most FIRST Robotics Competition teams are based out of one or more schools, there are some exceptions. Edgar Allan Ohms, based in Land O' Lakes, is one of those exceptions. The team is the first FRC team based in a public library in the nation. Because of the team, the library has built a makerspace to support the team. Today, the makerspace sees over 100 people per day.
Miller Bacon, the Lead Engineer and only remaining original member, came by to talk to us about the library and the team. He discussed the changes from the initial season, the expansion of the makerspace and how the team has grown around himself and AmeriCorps VISTA Joel over the past 4 seasons.
In addition, he talked about an overly ambitious project which involved creating custom tank treads for the machine. As it turned out, the change in materials from the practice field to the competition field caused some initial troubles.
This past season was an interesting one for many FIRST Robotics Competition teams, mostly because FIRST Stronghold, this year's game, was very unique. A large variety of ways to score and a combination of finesse and brute force made Stronghold different from any game in recent memory. Some teams rose to the challenge and others struggled.
One of the teams that succeeded in Stronghold was FRC 4769 Nerdvana. Melody McGinness, a senior and team President, spoke with us about her team's great season, the team's history and her plans after FIRST. While she doesn't plan on pursuing an engineering degree, she does plan on staying within the STEAM realm. She plans on going into an art field, and has been inspired by her time doing design work for her team.
One of the most unique experiences you can have in FIRST is to be part of a rookie team. FRC 5816, GRA-V, had their rookie season in the 2016 game, FIRST Stronghold, and Vice President and NEMO Lead Kaitlyn Bowman came to speak about that experience. The team won the Rookie Award at the Orlando Regional, and got an invitation to participate in World Championship.
In addition, Kaitlyn is a member of a brand new FIRST Tech Challenge team, which is so new it doesn't have a number yet. Velocity Vortex, the 2016-2017 game, will be their initial game, and Kaitlyn discusses her experiences so far with the game.
This year, our staff took responsibility for the technical aspects of ROBOTICON, including video on the JUMBOTRON and live streamed on Facebook. One angle that we have never had before at our competition is a moving aerial shot. Luckily, one of the event partners made this a reality.
Cigar City Multirotors is a local flying club, and Zac Lessin, Vice President of the club, came to speak to us about the group, what they do and how to join. He also discussed how they planned to help us enhance our live video through the use of aerial drones.
One FIRST team that has a special place in our cast's hearts is Team Duct Tape, and that is because both of our hosts are alumni of the team. The team got started when some students of a FIRST LEGO League graduated out of the program and has grown into one of the Florida powerhouses, being invited to Super Regional and World Championship competitions in past seasons.
Jacob Cannon, who has been on the team for several seasons, talks with his former teammates about this year's FIRST Tech Challenge game and how Team Duct Tape has dealt with the game. The team has implemented some new parts, including some that are custom made, that they hope will give them increased on-field results. Unfortunately, we will have to wait for competition to see it in full action.
The programs of FIRST are possible only through the time and efforts of volunteers, and a competition like ROBOTICON requires a wide variety of people to make it possible. One of our volunteers this year was Todd Hanning, who helped keep the room energetic by DJing, but that's not all he does.
Hanning has been involved with FIRST alumni, along with other students, at Florida Polytechnic University in developing a new product. In addition, he was also involved in the beginning of SOFWERX, a STEM facility that supports FIRST events, including hosting the FIRST Stronghold kickoff event in January 2016.
Of the four programs in the FIRST family, the one that can often surprise is FIRST LEGO League. The students are younger, starting in 4th grade, and the machines are smaller, but that is truly what makes these robots so impressive. These small, LEGO-constructed robots are able to accomplish a great deal on their field.
Abigail Peterson, a graduated member of FIRST LEGO League team 302, Squirtle Squad Scholars, spoke with us about her experiences with FIRST and with her team. She also discusses the aspect of FLL that sets the program apart from its larger siblings - the research project. Through this aspect of the program, the students get the opportunity to get in-depth with their subject matter and speak to people in the industry.
It Takes Alumni to pull off the Biggest and Best ROBOTICON yet.
Florida Polytechnic Student and FIRST Alumni, Zachary Weingarten joined us to discuss ROBOTICON, FIRST and the Robotics Club at Florida Polytechnic University. Zachary is a sophomore at the newly formed tech school located in Lakeland, Florida and has been an instrumental part of everything that made this weekend a success.
The Robotics Club started with just a couple of students during the school's inaugural year in 2016 and is growing rapidly with about 30 students this year. They have alumni from FIRST and VEX, as well as some students who were not previously on a formal robotics team but have a passion for building robots. The students recently participated in the First Tech Challenge's Robot in a Weekend program where they built a working prototype robot in just two days, immediately after getting the specs from the FTC Kickoff in September.
This robot is what brought the club here to volunteer at ROBOTICON Tampa Bay 2017. They came to show off the robot, run some scrimmages and assist the FTC teams with their builds and answer questions. Members of the club also volunteered for ROBOTICON directly and helped with FRC field set up and overall assistance during the event.
Zach joins Daniele and Marissa, also FIRST Alum, in speaking about their experiences in FIRST as well as offering due props to the FIRST Alumni Coordinator for the state of Florida, Barry Bohnsack. Barry is not only a great recruiter and mentor for these students, but he is also very active in FIRST activities and helps to make the experience fun.
While the stress and challenge of an official competition is a lot of fun, there is nothing in the FIRST Robotics realm quite like an off-season event. Organized by the Eureka! Factory, in partnership with the University of South Florida and the Florida FIRST Alumni Association, ROBOTICON Tampa Bay has become both a team and fan favorite.
This year, the FIRST Looks team got a chance to speak with team members from FIRST LEGO League, FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics Competition team, plus a FIRST LEGO League Affiliate Partner and program partners. One of the highlights of the event was the first ever international team, FRC Team 5606, Red Hurricane, from China, who also spoke with Daniele and Marissa.
The Orlando Regional is organized by a team of people, including alumni, regional directors and partners. Terri Willingham, the Regional Director for FIRST Robotics of Central Florida is on that team and discusses FIRST Stronghold as a game and its theming, including the fact that it was developed in cooperation with Disney and how it compares to past games. She also discusses the event itself and what it takes to put it together.
Some volunteers at FIRST events come with their teams, while others volunteer even when their teams aren't there. Chris Becker from Lakerbotics (FRC 1649) volunteered as a Student Ambassador to give tours to sponsors, VIPs and more. He discusses what his day is like as an Ambassador, what it means for him and what he gets out of the volunteering. We also discuss the ups and downs of Stronghold and how the team has overcome the new challenges.
Events as big as the Orlando Regional require a lot of volunteers, and some of those volunteers require a lot of knowledge about the FIRST itself. For example, someone giving tours of the pits and field must know about FIRST, FIRST Robotics Competition, Stronghold, etc. Riley Branch from Bionic Tigers (FRC 1592) volunteers as a Student Ambassador, providing exactly those services to VIP guests, sponsors and more. She discusses her experiences as a Student Ambassador for 4 years, the types of questions she gets and how it has affected her. We also discuss the team, how long it's been around and how they run their team.
One of the great things about FIRST is that it is one big community. No matter your age or league, everyone feels a connection. Because of that, at a FIRST Robotics Competition regional, there is representation from FIRST LEGO League. Beth Hanning, the Florida Northwest Region Partner for FIRST LEGO League, talked to us about the program and how it relates to the event. We also discussed SOFWERX, a facility in Tampa that has gotten involved with FIRST, even hosting the local FIRST Stronghold Kick Off.
One of the challenges that every FIRST team from any league faces is mentorship. Some teams find individuals who are well-versed in a particular aspect of FIRST to help, while others find an organization that can provide multiple mentors in a variety of areas. The latter is how Exploding Bacon (FRC 1902) runs, getting help from Comcast, in particular Universal Parks. Matthew Miller helps coordinate volunteers from the company to mentor the team in everything from engineering to outreach. When he's not doing that, he works within the parks to research and implement new technology for future attractions. We talk about why Comcast is so involved with FIRST and how he brings volunteers to the team.
While some of our students start with FIRST Robotics Competition, others like Marie Bartnick from S.P.A.M. (FRC 180) get their starts with FIRST LEGO League and graduate into the bigger programs. She discusses with us her experiences in both leagues, the things she has learned and the challenges her team faced during this year's game.
All FRC team members have to have an initial season, which is the case for Sam Estes from Torque Team (FRC 5283). He has joined the team's new business team, which is responsible for ensuring the whole team has enough money to support the season, as well as helps implementing fundraising efforts. We talk to him about his experience in FIRST, his team and his thoughts on the game.
One of the most interesting parts of the FIRST community is that many students never leave. After graduation, many of us continue to participate as judges, referees, mentors and sponsors. Libby Eastman from Team Banana (FRC 945) has returned to FIRST as a team mentor after being part of the program as a student. We talk to her about her experiences on both sides of the program.
We start our adventure with FIRST Looks at the 18th Annual FIRST Robotics Competition Orlando Regional. This year there are 63 competing teams, and we will speak to representatives of some of them, as well as sponsors, mentors, league Partners and Regional Director Terri Willingham.