Well I am sad/happy to announce that team 1430 (along with all the other Alaskan robotics teams that I know of) will no longer be participating in FIRST. Obviously I will miss going to the PNW regional and seeing all the people I have interacted with here. However we have run into issues with funding, and have found a solution. Most companies in Alaska are not terribly interested in funding a team to go compete in Oregon. Even if someone in Oregon was interested in their product, they for the most part could obtain it cheaper from someplace other than Alaska. Additionally travel has always accounted for more than 40% of our teams budget just to send the six members we could afford to spend.
In order to solve these problems, the Alaska Robotics Education Association (AREA, a group which coordinates robotics education within Alaska including legoleague, and FIRST) is creating an “Alaska Open” robotics competition. They are still finalizing the details, but the competition will as its name implies be open. There will be no hundred page rulebooks, no ship dates, no ridiculous (though I admit necessary for a competition the size of FIRST) rules, etc, and it will be held outdoors, right here in Anchorage. As things stand now it will attempt to promote actual autonomous robotics by giving incredible time penalties for teleoperation, however teleoperation will always be allowed in order to allow even new and inexperienced teams to participate. The idea is that in order to save money and increase processing power the robots will be based around PCs running Linux. The robots will also have to compete outdoors on a preset date regardless of weather. The competition will require the robot to navigate a dirt trail through the woods at a local park, locate some object (a “downed pilot”?), and probably doing something once it reaches the object, perhaps retrieving it.
Overall teams should be able to save between 20 and 60 percent (depending on how much they have spent in the past and how sophistocated htey want to go now) on materials costs, and very close to 100% on travel. We will also be doing more complex work, and have more time and less restrictions under which to do it.
For those of you who are familiar with it the general format of the competition should be similar to a scaled up version of the Seattle Robotics Societies RoboMagellan contest.
We will miss you guys and all the teams from Alaska. After visiting there this past summer, I feel much closer to you guys now. I hope you can make this new venture work and help the students in your area to achieve all that they can. Good luck. Anchorage is a great city, full of friendly people, as is all of Alaska.
Luckily, Russell was incorrect about the other teams. The good news is that of the 4 Alaskan teams in 2005, 3 of them registered weeks ago and plan to return for 2006 (2 are already fully paid I think). As of now, only 1430 won’t be returning.
All FIRST teams know how difficult fundraising is, but Russell is right - it’s even harder for the teams in Hawaii and Alaska due to the extreme travel expenses they encounter no matter where they compete. The teams in Alaska have tried for years to get the oil companies up there to support them, but sadly have had no success - even with the record profits those companies are making. The fact that 3 or 4 teams are able to participate each year from these states is incredible and shows how dedicated and passionate the students and mentors on those teams are. We hate to see any team leave FIRST, whether it’s for just one season or more, but certainly understand the difficulties many face.
There are some amazing people up in Alaska who have been supporting FRC, FLL, and other activities - I have no doubt the AREA group will put together a great activity for students to participate in. Hopefully we’ll see you back in FIRST at some point, but it’s great that 1430 is staying involved in robotics and taking advantage of other opportunities. Have a great season and be sure to thank all those mentors in Alaska and AREA making these opportunities available for the schools and students.
I know you said that travel expenses consume 40% of your budget per year, my question is why don’t the students pay their own way. If money within the team is tight, you must scrimp and save as much as you can wherever possible. When my former team had financial troubles my junior-senior year, we were required to pay our way (as before we never paid a cent for travel).
I hate to see you guys just up and leave the program, but I just don’t see why you can’t take a year off and do Vex or something and fundraise for an extra year.
It’s a shame, good luck with whatever path you do choose
Remember, FIRST is not just about doing FIRST. Just one year in FIRST will change you and your team. A team or club that did FIRST will forever do things related to robotics and engineering, that is what FIRST is about, inspiration. 1430 is just continuing their interest in robotics in a form other than FIRST. There is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with a 7-year veteran team with tons of money leaving FIRST, to do something else related to engineering. It would be a shame in 1430 gave up ENGINEERING, it is not a shame that they left FIRST. They are still doing what they have a passion for, but in a more efficient way. FIRST is a big-money competition, and I’m glad 1430 has found an easier way to educate its members in robotics and engineering.