This Friday, Dec. 4th, at 7pm, HackPittsburgh member Bill Bennett will present on the exciting world of FIRST Robotics, a national program designed to introduce middle- and high schoolers to the fascinating world of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). FIRST is organized by inventor Dean Kamen (of Segway, iBot, and sterling engine fame), and is based on the principle that as America’s number of STEM college graduates dwindles, we need to remind and inform students that STEM can be just as much fun, and more, than many other activities that may distract them from otherwise maximizing their academic opportunities, and that an educational background and career in STEM pays well, and can bring life-long benefits.
The flagship FIRST Robotics Competition has about 10 high school teams in greater Pittsburgh, and roughly 1,500 teams competing in an annual event which kicks-off in January. This series of competitions, which function in a March Madness-inspired format around the US, culminate in the Grand Championship in Atlanta each spring, and historically include 125lb robots running in tele-operated and autonomous modes, on a large field-of-play, using vision systems, grapplers, and original student designs for collecting and launching game pieces sometimes dozens of feet from the bot. The bots are designed and built by the kids, but they can’t do that without the the help of mentors and coaches.
How does this impact HackPittsburgh? The intersections are many — and include the fact that we’re playing with technology just as these kids are. But the kids need all sorts of advice and demonstrated leadership across many engineering disciplines (mechanical, electrical, computer, pneumatics, etc…), as well as help learning how to prototype and build these robots, and how to run their teams as much like a business as possible to assure future team sustainability. They also learn about cross-collaboration, coopetition, and gain levels of maturity by working with adults.
Mentoring is simply pure, addictive fun. And it’s easy — and once you start working with these students and focusing together on problem-solving and team-building, it becomes very hard to walk away from. All this, while helping demonstrate to the students the world of STEM, and that they may want to consider a future academic and professional career in technology.
If you’re interested in learning more, FIRST Robotics was recently covered by the NY Times. Come join us on Friday to learn more about FIRST Robotics and how YOU can get involved! As with all Friday events, this presentation is open to everyone!