FIRST Robotics WAY in the future

So I was thinking about what happens in the theoretical future when most of the 37,000 high schools in the US alone have teams FRC teams. Do you think it should or would happen? Would the community and sponsors be able to support it? Would we loose a lot of what we see now as GP within the community or would slower expansion prevent this?

Imagine for instance 20,000 veteran teams, that’s 20,000 * $5,000 registration fees. What would things look like?

I don’t think it will happen with FRC. I have witnessed many schools abandon FRC simply due to how much money it takes to compete. The District model makes it much easier to support more teams, but at the end of the day, these teams need the money to compete.

Another sad, but true fact is that many school administrations just don’t see the value in FIRST or extra-curricular activities and don’t provide the support that these teams need to operate. The team that supported my team in its early days just had their tech ed director retire and with his departure, this team has lost access to their school’s shop and all of the tools within.

New Hampshire obviously has a lot of FIRST history and it’s a tragedy whenever an FRC team fizzles. It always reminds me of how unbelievably lucky my team has been to have continuous support from sponsors, mentors, and school administrators.

I don’t think it would be sustainable all the way to 20,000 teams. There are a few things going forward that may reduce the cost of the program. With the spread of the district system, the overall cost per team could go down. With more teams, there is a larger market for FRC specific COTS components, and so the cost of building an effective robot goes down, and it can be done without expensive tools, a huge benefit for rookie teams. Look at shifting gearboxes, for example. The price of them has dropped dramatically since my first year, Rebound Rumble. With more teams nearby, there is more opportunity to reach out to one another, and they could more effectively share resources like practice fields and manufacturing equipment. However, I don’t think this will be enough to allow the program to scale to 20,000.

I believe that any sustained robotics-related program in a school is a win. Robotics covers so many STEM areas and gives students a glimpse of how STEM applies to the world around them.

FTC or VRC are more attractive to most school admins since there is a major element of reuse. VRC has more reuse, but FTC has a more open platform. I know locally many schools have taken advantage of VEX’s classroom kit since the teachers cannot stay after school in some cases.

FRC isn’t for every school; it takes a lot of drive just to fundraise every year. It is a premium program that requires a premium about of effort to sustain and be successful. And man is it fun to do.

Building on what Jesse wrote, many people who puzzle over what STEM robotics looks like in the future love what FRC does for the students who get hands-on time doing something (almost anything) for the team. That hands-on time might be designing/building/testing the robot, or strategizing and driving, or writing an annual business plan, or … But, they also often come to the conclusion that FRC teams/programs can/should be one of the capstones on broad-based pyramids of diverse STEM programs, instead being the first or only solution to be used in every high school (or Scout troop, or 4H Club, or …).

When a community creates a broad and deep pool of regular-season and off-season, school and non-school, adults and students participating in programs like FLL, VEXIQ, FTC, VRC, BotBall, BEST, PLTW, OOTM, etc. who then feed into the right number of FRC teams; they have a resilient, sustainable result that can give thousands of students opportunities that match their diverse needs at reasonable costs, and that can reliably give some number of those students (and the community) the sort of high-quality FRC experience they want and deserve.

How many FRC teams should exist per 1000 eligible students in a region?
How many VRC teams?
How many Air Force Association CyberPatriot teams?
I’ll leave those questions for another day.

Circling back to the original question: I believe that you will get more mileage out of envisioning a hypothetical future in which nearly all USA (or Brazilian, or German, or Indonesian, or …) students can tap into a thriving suite of STEM programs; and then pondering how many communities might choose to include an FRC team or two as one of the jewels in their crown. 100%? 20%? 50%?

Blake

If FIRST ever got up to 20,000 teams, they’d first need to find a World Championship venue the size of Rhode Island…