Monday, March 18, 2013

Another Year of FIRST Robotics

The FIRST Robotics regional has wrapped up in Pittsburgh, PA. I didn't really have time to participate as a mentor or volunteer this year (although I got a chance to present for my company as a sponsor, which was really nice). But I did get a chance to watch a couple of rounds. One I caught really summed up why I love FIRST.

Tem 3955 (blue, center) built a robot that could climb the pyramid rung-by-rung by repeatedly extending a two-claw gripping arm and then hooking a lower grip onto the bar below, a bit like a rock climber. The machine was a beautiful thing to watch.

But in this match, they slipped; only one hook "bit" on the highest bar of the pyramid and they were left hanging. In that position, they're worth 20 points at the end of the match, but they'd be worth 10 points more if they could get the lower chassis above the middle bar. You can hear the crowd shouting "Pull yourself up!" But if they do and the chassis bumps the middle bar, they could tumble right off and lose all 20 points (and possibly damage their robot or a teammate's robot on impact).

Scoring for the climbing pyramid. Source:

Rather than risk what they already had, they decided to hold on. And in the end, it proved to be the right choice; they won the round 69-55; the twenty points they earned were instrumental to their team's victory.

This is a machine that these students built themselves in six weeks, from scratch. But it's not about the machine; it's never really about the machine. It's about the moment-by-moment decisions made by the students on and off the field. I can imagine the pressure the three-student driving team felt trying to decide how to handle the situation; at the end of the day, the moment was in their hands alone, and it's their choice that will decide whether they win or lose.

Teamwork. Quick thinking. Focus. Strategy. And also control. Knowing how to do as much as you possibly can... And no more.

And no less.

This is why I keep coming back to FIRST.