If this really isn't about the robots, let's prove it

For the last 16 seasons I’ve been telling my teams, my students, their parents and anyone else that would listen that FIRST is about more than the robots and I believe it.

I’m sure I’m just as frustrated about the premature end to this season as the rest of us. Honestly, I’m pretty depressed, but my team at least had a chance to compete during Week 2 before it all fell apart, and I know that’s way more than most of us are going to get this year, so I’m not going to complain about it or dwell on it anymore.

I’ve dedicated most of my professional life to FIRST and the many hundreds of kids I’ve had the opportunity to work with and it wasn’t because of robots. I found in FIRST a way to contribute to the development of a generation of problem solvers.

Well, it appears that there is a problem to solve. It might not be as fun as Infinite Recharge, but it’s at least as worthwhile.

There are around 3900 drive stations that aren’t going to be used as planned. Ours (and all the rest of our machines) will be running BOINC and the Rosetta@home project to help identify proteins relevant to the coronavirus.


How much computational power can our community contribute? What other projects are out there? We might take those Raspberry Pi’s that aren’t doing any vision processing and convert them to a cluster for distributive citizen science projects (vision processing wasn’t working too well anyway).

Our school is closed through April 3rd. Online classes will begin a week from tomorrow after our extended Spring Break ends. My Upper and Middle School Robotics and Engineering classes will be Shifting Gears and learning to play Foldit online where you can contribute to research for potential antivirals to combat coronavirus:


We will also be taking advantage of the opportunity provided by this forced time-out from robotics to learn to use Geographic Information Systems and the resources that ESRI has provided for COVID-19:

Schools can get free Esri and ArcGIS accounts for their students including ArcGIS Desktop.

When our online classes commence, Team 5804 will reboot our 2020 Season. Job 1 is to co-create our Coronavirus curriculum.

How are you going to Shift Gears?

The season isn’t over, it’s just different.


If there one thing I love its FRC. Thanks for reminding us all to be inventive and take the skills we learned and use it for good. As for our team, I’m not sure atm what we will do. Hopefully something inventive and cool like you guys.


The robots are pretty cool though…


You are ABSOLUTELY right!
There is so much that can be done, there is really no time to mope around too long.
Just sticking to FRC:

  1. what training and skills improvement can the team do (programming, CAD, parts fabrication, 3D printing, etc.)?
  2. what R&D has the team been putting off for too long for the lack of time (how about getting that Vision System working as it should, or did you not want to figure out the new Trajectory WPILib Library)?
  3. What renos could the Pit benefit from?
  4. What tools, like Scouting apps does the Team need?
    and so much more…

We also say that our team is more than just a robot and a competition.
We are meeting 3/13, to console those who were crushed by the cancellation of the season and then our plans for the rest of the year.


They are very cool. Ours, Womp Rat, was taking us to Detroit this year. We don’t make it every year, so this is a real bummer.


I don’t spend all the time away from my family just because they’re cool.


Yes! I spend time away from my family, use up half of my vacation time and spend my own money on gas, hotels and airfare to invest in the next generation of problem solvers who will make our world a better place.

We have seen quite a number of exceptional young people progress through this program. My wife and I fully expect to see some news article about the latest scientific breakthrough and say “I remember when they were on X team”.


For any data geeks out there, the COVID-19 pandemic is producing enormous amounts of data. Maybe teams could take some scouting resources and apply them to data visualization in ways that could help their communities and beyond respond to this or future outbreaks. There are opportunities here to learn about GIS, big data, real-world statistics, data modeling, data visualization, etc.


Thank you for this. I have sent the link to everyone on our 100+ team so hopefully we can get at least a couple more workstations running it. We will also be running it on our driver station, our two Pi’s, and our two TX2’s.

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That’s the idea, Antman!

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Sweet! In case you haven’t used BOINC before, It’s possible to set up teams. Everyone on your team can join the same BOINC team and earn credits.

Distributive computing can also be competitive.


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Already been doing similar with Folding@Home too: Folding@Home vs. Coronavirus

There appears to be a FIRST Robotics team in BOINC’s stats, though working on another project. Could easily be one person crunching for glory. https://www.boincstats.com/stats/-1/team/detail/43648332/projectList

Edit: Also, BAM (BOINC Account Manager) is a really easy way to get a bunch of computers configured quickly for teams and projects. It also lets you manage things remotely.


I loved the iniative we should be doing things like this for ages

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I agree with your comments. There are so many things we can do. Good luck with your efforts. Also, don’t forget to encourage your fellow ESRI employees, especially those in Redlands, to help mentor teams in the Inland Empire.

I’m an educator and FRC mentor in Richmond Virginia. I don’t know any Esri employees nor do I have any affiliation with them.

Maybe if you were to demonstrate the value of a relationship between your team and Esri they’d be more open to a relationship?


Here is what the students on our team have come up with!

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Thank you for clarifying. ESRI was highlighted near your comments, so I made the wrong inference. You’ve given me a good assignment for this upcoming year. Good luck with your work and with your students!

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You, too!

Your feedback has prompted me to reach out directly to Esri - I’ve googled around a bit and haven’t found any connection between FIRST and Esri. I’m sure they would appreciate more students using their products. Maybe this is a good way to branch out to engineers and technologists beyond those that typically support FIRST?

Oh cool, GIS has come up again on CD. Makes my geographer heart happy.

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Two ideas to go beyond robots:

  1. Students now have lots of spare time. Communities now have many vulnerable people who shouldn’t go out for basic shopping needs. Teams could contact and coordinate with local community support organizations and food banks and help deliver food and goods to these households. Students are perfect because they have stronger immune systems in case they become infected (but they should take maximum precautions regardless).

  2. Mentors could prepare short (10 minute) videos on how to do technical repairs around the house (e.g., replacing plumbing or appliance fixtures, carpentry repair, etc.), and set up the videos on Youtube channels for their individual teams. (This ieda is from my wife.) They could then ask team members to view these, and have a contest of how many of these tasks each team member completes.