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NASA FIRST Robotics Competition for High Schools Info

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  • Toni Thompson
    Everyone - You all know what NASA is and does. FIRST is an acronym that stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology . FIRST is
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 5, 2000
      Everyone -

      You all know what NASA is and does. "FIRST" is an acronym that
      stands for "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and

      FIRST is also a 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose mission is to
      generate an interest in science and engineering among today's youth.
      Currently, our primary means of accomplishing this goal is through
      our annual robot competitions, which began in 1992. NASA, who needs
      many more engineers and scientists than our schools currently
      produce, is one of the primary sponsors of the high school event -
      the FIRST Robotics Competition.

      We are sending you this information because we think you will find it
      VERY interesting...It's long, I know, but we wanted to give you a
      good idea of what's involved.

      FIRST Robotics Competition Information

      The FIRST Robotics Competition is a national
      engineering contest that immerses high school students in the
      exciting world of engineering. Teaming up with engineers from
      businesses and universities, students get a hands-on, inside look at
      the engineering profession. In six intense weeks, students and
      engineers work together to brainstorm, design, construct and test
      their "champion robot". With only six weeks, all jobs are critical
      path. The teams then compete in a spirited, no-holds-barred
      tournament complete with referees, cheerleaders and time clocks.

      The partnerships developed between schools,
      businesses, and universities provide an exchange of resources and
      talent, highlighting mutual needs, building cooperation, and exposing
      students to new career choices. The result is a fun, exciting and
      stimulating environment in which all participants discover the
      important connection between classroom lessons and real world

      Each year, the competition is different, so returning
      teams always have a new challenge to look forward to. However, the
      details are kept secret until the unveiling at the Kick-Off
      workshop. This provides a high level of excitement as everyone sees
      the new challenge for the first time and ideas immediately begin
      forming in people's minds.

      To give you a flavor of the FIRST Robotics
      Competition, we have pictures from the 1997 competition available
      online (www.usfirst.org). If you have a lot of time, you can
      download a cool video showing the excitement of the 1995 FIRST
      Robotics Competition at EPCOT '95. You can also browse web pages
      setup by some of the teams that have participated in past FIRST
      Robotics Competitions.

      Preparation for the 2001 competition is now under
      way. Dates and locations for the 2001 FIRST Robotics can be found on
      the website mentioned above.

      The deadline for registration for the 2001 FIRST
      Robotics Competition is December 8, 2000. If you have questions
      about the Competition, please contact FIRST via mail, email, phone,
      or fax (www.usfirst.org), or you can contact me at
      fboyer@.... My phone number is 650-604-0992.

      If you know you want to participate in the 2001 FIRST
      Robotics Competition, you can register online.

      Scholarship Opportunities for FIRST Team Participants

      NASA is able to provide 100 teams nationally a $6,000
      team scholarship, to assist with registration and the costs of the
      Kick-Off. You can access this information at


      A FIRST team may range in size from a small
      group of a few engineers and high school students to a small army of
      engineers, students, faculty and parents. The secret of building a
      successful team is not to assemble the largest team possible, but
      rather to assemble a team that can work well together. To do this,
      the team must recognize and capitalize on the unique abilities of
      each member of the team.

      To understand what is needed to build a FIRST
      team, it is important to realize that the FIRST project is more than
      the not-so-simple task of designing and building a robot from a
      standard set of raw materials. It involves such diverse aspects as
      financing the project, coordinating logistics, arranging
      press coverage for your team, and documenting the impact your team
      has made in your community.

      Other than having high school students as the
      robot drivers and on field players, there are no other rules that
      specify who else has to be on a team. Typically, a FIRST team will
      include some combination of the following categories
      of people:

      High School Students - All students have
      different talents and enjoy different activities, and the FIRST
      project is a forum for these individual talents to shine. Though the
      goal of FIRST is to motivate students to pursue careers in science
      and engineering, the participating students need not be primarily
      interested in these fields. There is room on the team for every type
      of student. By their participation, many become attracted to
      engineering and others leave with an appreciation for and an
      understanding of the engineering profession.

      For example, a student that likes writing can
      be assigned as the team's publicist to handle press relations, a
      student with vocational training can help build the robot, a student
      strong in math may calculate the required geometry for the robot, a
      student that enjoys computers can develop a web page
      for the team, and a student interested in art can design the
      logo and robot aesthetics. In short, every ability can be applied to
      the project.

      Teachers - Faculty involvement is critical
      for the project. The faculty serves not merely as supervisors, but
      also as coaches for specific components of the project. Also, their
      involvement is crucial to generate enthusiasm and support for the
      project from within the school system.

      Industry Engineers and Technicians - For
      many teams, this group is the nucleus of the project team. The
      following people are needed in this group: an electrician, a
      machinist, and at least two engineers, one of who should have
      experience in product development. Included in this category of
      industry participants are government employees from technical
      research centers operated by the U.S. government.

      University Faculty and Students - A number
      of FIRST teams have included university participants. There are many
      ways for university students and faculty to participate in FIRST.
      Some schools have used FIRST as an undergraduate capstone design
      project, others have participated as a student professional society
      activity, and others have used FIRST in their graduate curriculum.

      Others - This group includes interested
      parents, community members, retired teachers/engineers, and non-
      engineering industry representatives. Typically, this group
      coordinates any or all parts of the project beyond the design and
      construction of the robot. Having one industry team member from the
      public affairs office or the company's executive office is a
      way to help secure the resources, exposure, and recognition that is
      critical to the project's success.

      Though the distribution of these five
      components varies from team to team, there are generally four types
      of teams that participate in FIRST: an industry-high school
      partnership, a university-high school partnership, an industry-
      university-high school partnership, and a coalition team. While the
      first three team types are self-explanatory and involve a single high
      school, industry and/or university, the coalition team involves
      multiple companies, universities and/or high schools competing as a
      single team. For example, one company may elect to sponsor a team
      that represents each high school in a school system, and, as a
      result, have four high schools represented on a single team. As
      another example, a group of small companies may join together to
      collectively sponsor and staff a single team.

      During the project, the students witness the
      leadership needed to run organizations, and many students will be put
      in positions where they must lead critical elements of the project.
      The critical criterion for the team is their ability to work with
      each other to complete the many individual tasks needed to create a
      competitive robot. As such, the size of the team, beyond a minimum
      core of four able adults and a group of interested students, does not
      matter. What does matter is assembling a group that can respect each
      other's opinions, form consensus, and work together.

      Perhaps the best perspective to think about
      your team is to view your FIRST team as your own personal company.
      You certainly want to have a successful business, so you want to
      involve the best people on your team. You will need to "hire"
      effective managers for your company: people that can follow
      a chain of command, be delegated responsibilities, and deliver the
      required products. These managers must direct the work of motivated
      and energetic employees (that may be students, faculty, parents, or
      industry participants). Like the real world, you will need to work
      hard to recruit talented people to join your company.

      You must convince others to accept the same
      realization that you made when you committed to the FIRST project:
      yes, this will take time, but there are few opportunities that can
      give a better return on the investment. To recruit these people,
      videos of previous FIRST competitions can be an important
      resource. Let them watch the videos on their own and afterwards
      approach them to join your team.


      Few programs give a larger bang for the buck
      than FIRST. Like your personal decision to invest your time in FIRST
      because you receive a valuable return on your investment, the
      financial costs associated with FIRST must be evaluated in a similar
      fashion. The financial cost must be evaluated
      relative to the return on the investment.

      In addition to the $5000 entrance fee for
      each competition, there are other items that must be funded by each
      FIRST team. These include travel for team members to attend the Kick-
      Off Workshop, building materials, administrative costs, shipping,
      uniforms, and team travel to the competition. Though there are
      exceptions, the minimum budget needed for a FIRST team is
      approximately $15,000. This budget covers expenses, and does not
      include the financial value of the engineers and faculty volunteers
      that participate in the project.

      Comparisons illustrate the return on
      investment in the FIRST project. Costs of $3,000 a person for one-
      week professional training courses are not uncommon in industry. Past
      industry participants in FIRST have vouched that they have learned
      more through the FIRST project than in any professional training
      course. Also, Baxter Healthcare Corporation and Procter & Gamble have
      sanctioned the FIRST competition as product management and prototype
      development activities for their engineers.

      The financial models used by FIRST teams vary
      as much as the make-up of the teams themselves. In all cases though,
      cost sharing is a common attribute of each team's finances. Under
      cost-sharing model, all components of the team contribute to the
      project budget. For example, the corporation may
      fund the entrance fee, construction costs, and travel costs for their
      employees. In this case, the high school would be responsible for the
      travel costs of the students and minor administration costs. As a
      source of funding, many of the high schools solicit donations from
      local businesses and initiate fund raising projects to pay travel
      expenses for members to attend the competitions.

      Any needed fundraising should take place
      during the period before the competition. The six weeks of the
      construction phase pass by too quickly to devote any of that time to
      fundraising. This time is also a good time for the support and public
      relations components of your team to work together and practice some
      of the skills they will need during the competition.


      Though the competition does not begin until
      the first week of January, it is never too soon to prepare for the
      competition. Since the competition game changes each year, there is
      no way to build your robot ahead of time, but there are many other
      things you can do to practice for the competition.
      This pre-season time is the right time to organize
      your team and identify key people to lead the engineering,
      management, and operation sections of your team. Activities such as
      creativity exercises, studying previous competition game videos, and
      working with some of the actual kit components are
      worthwhile team projects to gain valuable
      experience and promote teamwork.

      Sparking Creativity - There are many types
      of creativity exercises to introduce high school students to
      engineering problem solving. Weekly pizza-powered mini-tutorials on
      engineering concepts, electronics, and the design process are a
      popular way to introduce students to fundamental concepts needed to
      design and build the robot. The tutorials also act as an icebreaker
      activity to help the team members begin to know, trust, and value
      each other.

      Learning By Doing - A good understanding of
      the range of possibilities that can be created from the standard kit
      of parts can be gathered by reviewing videos of past competitions and
      classifying your observations. For example, each year the robots must
      move, pick up or move another object, and
      probably lift that object. Using these three functions, you can break
      up your team into groups to review old competitions and study how
      these tasks were accomplished. By requiring the groups to classify
      methods for each task (propulsion, grabbing objects, and lifting)
      they can visually dissect the video
      images to see the engineering involved in the project.

      Once you have classified the types of
      mechanisms that can be used for each of these three movements, your
      team can then try to build some of these components using material
      purchased from a hardware store. Though you do not know for certain
      that battery powered hand drills will be supplied as part of the kit,
      assuming so would be a safe bet. To understand how the rotational
      motion of a hand drill can be efficiently converted to transitional
      motion, the team could design and build a hand drill powered
      propulsion system.

      Similarly, another part of your team could
      design and build a device to grab an object, while yet another group
      designs and builds a device to lift up an object. Small, high speed,
      low torque DC motors could be purchased to investigate the gear
      reductions necessary for your prototype devices. Through these
      projects, the team should begin to see the difficulty in constructing
      physical systems that operate as intended. Materials such as plywood
      and sheet insulation are useful to work with as a prototype material.

      Safety Education - Learning about and
      practicing safety procedures for power tools must be included during
      these activities. All members of the team should know proper safety
      procedures, and each team must take responsibility for their own
      actions and the actions of those on their team. Each
      member should be comfortable calling a time-out whenever a safety
      violation is observed, and all members of the team should be briefed
      on the observed violation.

      In addition to learning about design and
      construction techniques that will be needed for the competition,
      these activities serve as a test of the team's operation. By
      conducting these pre-event building activities, your team can
      evaluate your logistical plans regarding meeting locations, shop and
      availability, procedures for purchasing parts, and team
      organization. Identifying problems to correct will be time well spent
      during the months before the competition begins.


      The competition begins in early January at
      the Kick-Off Workshop when the game for the year is unveiled, and the
      kit of parts distributed. The Kick-Off Workshop is shrouded in
      secrecy to ensure that the game is revealed to all teams at the same
      time. With Dean Kamen (the founder of FIRST) and Woodie Flowers
      (FIRST's technology guru) standing before representatives of every
      team, a signal is given, the stage curtains surrounding the playing
      field are lifted, and the game is revealed to all participants.

      Six weeks later, you have to ship your
      completed robot to a regional competition or, if you are not
      participating in a regional competition, to the national competition
      at EPCOT. Six weeks is a tight time frame to go from problem
      statement to final product, and a clear plan of action is needed.

      The most important aspect of your design is
      that it must be able to play the game. You can only inspire the high
      school students if you design and build a robot that can gather
      objects, take them somewhere, and score points. The design need not
      be elegant, the construction need not be production quality, and the
      operation need not be the smoothest, but, in the end, your robot must
      work. Having a robot that is unable to play the game severely limits
      your ability to inspire the high school students on your team.

      Local Kick-Off - Since only a handful of
      participants are allowed to attend the Kick-Off Workshop, your team
      will need to have its own "local Kick-Off" as soon as
      possible to
      unveil the game to the rest of the team members. Your local Kick-Off
      should be as dramatic as possible to allow all the
      team members to share the excitement and
      anticipation of the actual Kick-Off Workshop. After revealing the
      game, you should pass out copies of the relevant sections of the game
      rules and divide your team into sub-groups.


      Throughout this intense six-week construction
      project, your team must also document the impact the project is
      making on the community. This documentation is sent to FIRST during
      the sixth week of the project and is evaluated for the premier award
      associated with the Competition. Also during this time, logistics for
      attending the regional and national competitions must be finalized.

      Once you have some working components of the
      robot completed, the press should be invited to see your team in
      action. In general, the interest of the press parallels the
      construction of the robot: there is little for them to see during the
      design phase, the prototypes don't photograph especially well,
      completed subsystems are parts that they can understand, and the
      completed robot makes a huge impression on people.

      You will have at least a week to relax before
      the actual competition, and you will need it to recover from the past
      six weeks and to prepare for the next few weeks. To put it mildly,
      the competitions themselves are intense. So
      much time has been devoted to the project, and everyone wants to do

      Above all, take in the grandeur of the
      competition, see the enthusiasm in thousands of high school
      faces, and take pride in the fact that your personal commitment to
      others made this possible.

      Welcome to the 2001 FIRST Robotics Competition

      Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can answer any questions
      for you.

      Flora Boyer
      Robotics Education Project
      NASA Ames Research Project
      MS 269-3
      Moffett Field, CA 94035
      650-604-0992 Phone
      650-604-4036 Fax
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