[FRC Blog] The FIRST Innovation Challenge presented by Qualcomm

Posted on the FRC Blog , 10/08/2020: https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/frc/blog/2021-innovation-challenge-deans-list

The FIRST Innovation Challenge presented by Qualcomm

Written by Frank Merrick.

Innovation Challenge FIRST Robotics Competition Qualcomm

We’re so excited to work with Qualcomm, a long-time FIRST Strategic Partner, on our new Innovation Challenge! Think your team has what it takes to help solve a real-world challenge? Check out the information on this page. We’ll have more details about the competition soon, so stay tuned to this blog and the team email blasts.

And thanks Qualcomm for your generous support of FIRST !

Dean’s List

We’ve got some changes to the nomination essays for the Dean’s List Award! To help ensure judges are getting the most important information from our teams, the Dean’s List Award nomination essay has been updated. Instead of one 4,000-character essay, we have separated the nomination into four prompts with 1,000-character text limits each. Each of these prompts directly correlate to the criteria of the award:

  1. Explain how the student embodies the philosophies of Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition through the FIRST Core Values: Discovery, Innovation, Impact, Inclusion, Teamwork and Fun. Please provide examples.
  2. How has the student increased the awareness of FIRST ? Describe the student’s interests and/or plans to continue to engage with FIRST beyond high school. Please provide examples.
  3. Describe the student’s technical expertise, entrepreneurship and creativity. How does the student’s individual contributions to the team benefit the team as a whole in areas of fundraising, outreach, robot build, programming, etc.? Please provide examples.
  4. Explain the student’s leadership to their fellow team members. How do they motivate others? What is their leadership style? Please provide examples.

Criteria for the award, as well as all other aspects of the nomination process, remain unchanged. You can find more details about the Dean’s List Award here.

The interview process is still being determined, but we will be having remote interviews with FIRST Robotics Competition judges for the 2021 season. Exact details on the interview process as well as open and close dates will be announced in the coming weeks, but you can start thinking about those new prompts now!

I hope you are having a great week! Stay healthy!



Not excited about these Dean’s List changes simply because it makes my life of writing recommendation letters harder. Previously I could basically use the essay with minimal changes as a recco letter.

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And this is what we get for starting early… I guess I get to start over…
… this also just makes the future selection of candidates a little more difficult. I’ve known Dean’s List Finalists/Winners that had very little to say in some criteria areas but were just so over-the-top in others that they won. Splitting the essay into four will make it much more difficult to celebrate and recognize these students.

Also, did I just miss this?
The Chairman’s requirements changed a little over a week ago? Submitted Awards | Resource Library | FIRST

I dislike the misleading blog title. There is little to no new info about the Innovation Challenge, but LOTS of new info about Dean’s List.


Even the linked webpage doesn’t give many details regarding the Innovation Challenge and has no relevant links.

When I wrote the Dean’s List submissions in the 2018 season, it seemed that they could have accepted a submission for a student who demonstrated the qualities described in only one of the four new prompts. It appears that HQ is encouraging more well rounded candidates. The wording of the four prompts makes me think that the bar has been raised for the candidates and the writers of the essays. For example, writing that an applicant “was on an FLL team” or “coached and FLL team” doesn’t seem adequate anymore. It now appears that the writer would have to research how effectively the applicant has coached the FLL team.

I think this gets at the heart of the need for the changes. It didn’t even occur to me until reading your post that someone would write something with such minimal facts and details that the judges couldn’t see the impact. Do people actually write things like “coached an FLL team” without context in these essays?!

I suspect this parallels the changes made last season to the Chairman’s Award submissions where more concrete and quantitative information or data is needed and guidelines are now provided for terminology and for what counts.

Using the example of “coached an FLL team”, I know of many people (students and adults) who have coached FLL teams in the Houston area in the recent past through participating in the competitions and serving as Head Judge and Head Referee and interacting with many of those coaches. There would be a wide spectrum of the impact those coaches had on their teams. It would be fair to say that some of them were essentially baby sitters since those coaches did not give any indication that they were involved with working with the students or were guiding them in any way. There were some who struggled with the students to learn the basics by the end of the competition season. There were also some who, year after year, could work with an inexperienced team or a rookie team and guide and inspire them to develop their skills and knowledge so they could reach the higher levels of accomplishment over several years. Those people could all be described by the words “coached an FLL team” and it would be difficult for the judges to determine how much impact any particular coach had on their teams and on the community if that was all the writer put in the essay. Those words are essentially “checking a box” that apply to all coaches regardless of their impact.

My gut feeling is that FIRST is wanting to find those exceptional students who truly had a significant impact rather than students who did things to “check all the boxes”.

Is there already a CD topic on the Innovation Challenge? This is all I easily found:

… teams will identify a real-world problem or opportunity related to our season theme and design a solution, build a business model, and deliver a remote pitch to compete for advancement …

It doesn’t appear that the Innovation Challenge will include prototyping, or any tangible reduction to practice. So it sounds like a proposal competition. Proposals an are important part of getting new product development funded; however, many of them are light on actual engineering results since they are written on shoestring budgets. Maybe FIRST teams will buck that generalization? I would like to see judging criteria that explicitly reward a working model of the idea.


Very good point. I assumed it would look more like FIRST LEGO League’s Innovation Project, where (as of this year) the team is required to create a model/drawing/prototype to demonstrate their solution. That’s not explicitly stated, nor even really implied here. I also hope their description is just poor phrasing and the real-world development will be an integral part of the competition. Understandably, though, that could be difficult for many teams to pull off in the COVID era.

Or detailed calculations and other research to back up the validity and viability of the solution.

In FLL, teams are expected to consult experts in fields related to their solution and to present their solution to audiences that can benefit from their solution. Teams that only rely on internet research typically don’t do very well. Many of the solutions the FLL teams develop are solid enough to get patents.


I agree that the quality of ideas generated by FLL teams often goes under-recognized by the larger FIRST community; this is one of the reasons I like Michigan’s implementation of FIRST’s progression of programs. When we build the chain of mentorship across those programs, inspiration and recognition are allowed to flow in both directions, up and down the chain.

I think FRC teams should be held to the more difficult “actual reduction to practice” standard as outlined by USPTO MPEP 2138.05.

For an actual reduction to practice, the invention must have been sufficiently tested to demonstrate that it will work for its intended purpose, but it need not be in a commercially satisfactory stage of development.

Like the robots we would be building in a normal year.


Not all states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (at least in whole), but most have. And in the NGSS are engineering and technology standards… not many, but at least something. From what I can gather from the sparse details, the Innovation Challenge may lend itself to the NGSS Standards (ETS1, 2, 3, 4).

As I referenced above, I made a short research project last year for distance learning, that is along those lines: assignment. Anyone whose team is planning on doing the Innovation Challenge should try to link it to the ETS standards… most kids never have them met in their actual science classes.


…and are so widely shared by said teams they usually would not be eligible for a patent, but I digress.

What I believe the patent attorneys at one of my previous employers said that as long as a patent application is filed within some time period from when the idea was first made public, the application can be accepted.

At the Awards Ceremony for the FLL WF in 2013, the MC asked how many people had patents or provisional patents related to their Research Project. About a third of the people in the audience raised their hands.

Not all the ideas the FLL teams come up with are patentable. One local team identified school bus routes that would result in significant fuel savings and presented the idea to their school.

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A good summary of US Patent protection can be found here.

Quick overview: to be patentable, an invention must be novel, useful, and not obvious. Applications for a patent must disclose a full description of the claimed invention, in sufficient detail to “enable” a skilled artisan to make and use it. In the US, the application must be made within one year of the idea’s first public disclosure; however, there is an exception for ideas in experimental use that are not yet ready for patenting because the experiments must be completed before the claimed idea is generally useful. This US policy differs from that of many other jurisdictions, where the patent application must be filed before any public disclosure.

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