Is FIRST a robot building CONTEST?

Issues have arisen in other threads, and some people are very upset with the scoring system being used this year. Let me say right at the start that I think every effort should be made to insure the games and rankings are scored correctly.

I do believe that having our focus on the real purpose of FIRST helps us keep our perspective.

FIRST is obviously up to its ears in robots. No one would argue that designing and building the teams robot is not core to this program.

The topic of this thread, however, is “Is FIRST a robot building contest?”

Are we here to see which sponsor company or which highschool can build the best tetra stacking, goal defending radio controlled machine?

If FIRST is not a contest, then what is it?

A competition in a different sense?

An exploration of engineering?

A celebration of science?

A sneaky plan by Dean to flood the world with an army of engineers and scientists?

Rather than arguing back and forth, please state your position AND give examples of things that you have experienced during your involvement with FIRST to support your stance.

FIRST is nothing short of a community. We build robots, we strategize, we raise money, we animate, we write, we talk to sponsors, we design, we work, we have fun. On the surface, FIRST is a contest. Maybe a robot building contest to some people, maybe a strategy contest to others. Or Chairman’s Award, website, animation, anything. But I think underneath that it’s a heck of a lot more than just competition. I know I didn’t really get involved on my team until the first regional I went to.

Validius: I take it from your request for instant replay that you think the contest aspect is the most important thing. That the games should be made as fair as possible. More money should be spent so we can keep official cameras on all 6 robots, and all six human players throughout each match?

FIRST is a way to get kids excited about science and technology through working on a robot, whether that work be building, programming, PR, fund raising, driving, etc.

The scoring only matters in terms of personal satisfaction, recognition, and getting funding.

I believe FIRST is a competition in a different sense, in more ways than one. I really like how Ken worded that so I’m gonna keep that term. Here is my main reason

School Sports vs FIRST
As an athlete for my school since 7th grade, multi-tasking between robotics and sports has always been important to me. One of the major things I have noticed and commented on often is the differences in interaction between athletes at a competition and robotics students at a regional or in Atlanta.

Maybe it’s just my experience yelling at me, but I’ve noticed that the FIRST concept of “co-opetition”, i.e., competing against a team in one match and with them in the next, that sets apart this organization from sports. While growth in engineering, science, and business are outstanding themes throughout the build, competition, and off seasons, at competition team ethic is a primary focus.

Many of my closest friends come from FIRST. 63.75% of my buddylist is made up of random people that I have meet either at competition, on the FIRST cht, or through some aspect of the program. That is a pretty hefty number. This level of interaction between individuals on different teams comes from the stress on team ethic in the program and in the team. Many FIRSTers cheer for more teams than just their own or their alliance at the time, which results in unique bonds between many teams.

Yes, at competition FIRST is a contest in a sense, but is that truly a bad thing? A person’s ability to conduct themselves in a competitive environment, whether with grace or with irresponsiblity, is the measure of their capabilities in many other situations. Most importantly, in this “contest”, people are given the opportunity to rise above a bad name they may have made for themselves and remedy their relationships by giving back.

A competition is a competition, but just as Karen said perfectly, we do it better than that…:slight_smile:

  • Genia

Lets not kid ourselves: students, mentors, teachers, sponsors, etc. join and get involved in FIRST because they view it as a robotics competition where robots battle it out in an intense two-minute game. Thats why I originally joined FIRST and I think the rest of my team will say the same thing. I don’t think too many students join FIRST with the hopes of winning Chairmans.

However, from my own experience and from the experience of many on my team, those who join FIRST soon realize that there is much more to the competition than just building robots. There are so many different aspects to the game and competition where a team can compete in.

Regardless of whether it is simply about building robots, FIRST is still a competition, pure and simple.

FIRST a robot building contest? I would have to disagree considering that winning the tournament is the lowest award one can earn. Don’t take me wrong. There is a great sense of pride in winning the tournament, but I feel that FIRST is more a bout forging relationships and getting a taste of what scientists and engineers face every day. There are problems that need to be solved and it is important that today’s youth have the ambition to take on those problems and find help find solutions for them.

FIRST is a great way to give you a real world challenge but have the safety net of a lab environment. I just wish they had a program like this when I was in school.

Exactly. FIRST is about teaching kids about engineering and getting them interested in it. I fail to see how this is possible without a robot. Or without some other form of engineering challenge that we’d be discussing instead of a robot.

Most of our mentors and students are focused upon the robot design and build. The competitions spend a Thursday, Friday and most of Saturday focused upon the objective of playing these robots to win.

The two highest awards (Chairman and Engineering and Inspiration) in reality seem to be the measure of relatively few mentors and students during the year. I know there may be some exceptions.

So, from the perspective of a lot of us mentors and students its about building a robot that can compete…having fun doing so and keeping the kids excited about it even when our bots don’t do so well.

A better question is this Ken. Is FIRST a robot building CONTEST for ADULTS?
I have attended four competitions now and have noted that over 1/2 of the teams have adults (mentors) programming, repairing, modifying, coaching and strategizing. Many instances, the kids are just standing around watching. Fortunately, FIRST allows the kids to drive…otherwise adults would be driving the robots as well.

I am a confident and capable programmer. I am able to do lots of things in autonomous mode…but the point is to get the kids excited about programming. So, we spent a lot of time mentoring them to program (start in December with lots of Saturday training). In fact, we give them last year’s robot to practice programming before our new bot is ready. During the competition, it was up to the kids to figure out what they wanted in autonomous and how to program it. I gave general advise when they asked but refused to write a single line of code. It is absolutely incredible what kids can do under pressure and with good mentoring and training.

I think we need better preparation for training our mentors to back up and let the kids in…even if it causes us to perform more poorly in the competition…who know, there is an equally good chance that robots would do better if we adults stayed out of the way. :slight_smile:


A competition in a different sense?

An exploration of engineering?

A celebration of science?

A sneaky plan by Dean to flood the world with an army of engineers and scientists? :smiley:

It’s all of that and more. Thats what makes FIRST such an amazing program

FIRST is not entirely a robot building contest, although to most people on the outside who watch competitions that is what they would expect, what those people do not see is the work in the community, or the students who major in engineering after being in 4 years of FIRST in their high school
FIRST is a stepping stone for students into the world of engineering and it gives students confidence and lets them have fun at the same time.
As I have heard before FIRST is the hardest fun ever.

A robot building competition is a vehicle for FIRST.


A lot of posts here do an excellent job of discussing FIRST’s goals. Why not go to the source? From

“FIRST designs accessible, innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology and engineering. FIRST inspires in young people, their schools and communities an appreciation of science and technology, and how mastering these can enrich the lives of all.”

It’s a personal development program disguised as a robotics competition. I’m also involved in Boy Scouts, which most participants think is a camping club, while the adults know it is a character development program. Most smart coaches of athletic programs for utes would say that building character is more important than winning games.

It’s no accident that good youth programs look so much alike. My son runs track, but it is (now) FIRST robotics that excites him. My younger son is an active leader in our Jr. High church program. He thinks he is planning fun activities for other kids, but his leader is subtly teaching him to take responsibility for himself and others.

The vision is mature, engaged young people who turn into responsible adults.

The mission is to mobilize community, school and corporate resources to support the vision.

The method is to provide an interesting, exciting program that gives young people opportunities to explore and expand their capabilities and interests.

If it was just about building a robot I wouldn’t waste my time.

With all due respect to the previous thoughts…

No to instant replay. Do any of us have any idea of how long it would take to use instant replay and deal with all of the ensuing discussions/arguments? How many of you have gone through Head Ref training and/or listened in on one of these conference calls? How many have had to recruit volunteers to do this job? How many of you realize this is much more difficult to do than it is to referee a sport that has almost no rule changes/differences from year to year?? Now, back to the question…

I’m all for a sense of fair play, more refs, and clear rules, BUT FIRST is primarily a training ground for competing in an UNFAIR world. How we react to adversity, persevere, and STILL treat others with kindness and generosity is the core of this program which is designed to change the culture for the better, work toward a global society, and prepare students for exciting and challenging futures.

I was a head ref at an offseason event in the fall. A fuming, I mean red-faced, team coach approached me with a video camera demanding that I review the tape because my call was wrong and I needed to change it. I calmly told him there was no replay in the rules, that I had a tough call to make, I made it, and the decision was final. He went away still mad and trying to convince others that his team was wronged. Here’s the funny/sad part. Two seasons earlier, in 2003, this gentleman was a rookie team coach I met at a regional. He was excited, wide-eyed, and juiced-up about what this did for his students. I observed him cheering, win or lose, during that regional and having a blast. He wanted to win, but he understood the balance. I still wonder what, in just 18 months, happened to this person that changed him so drastically. He obviously didn’t remember me, he was so mad he only saw a ref that screwed up in his estimation. More importantly, in a key moment, he didn’t remember what FIRST really is.

Do we really need to overly regulate these competitions so much that they become like every other sporting event in the country? Do we really want to provide another forum that fosters arrogant participants, red-faced coaches, and rude spectators? I thought FIRST was about changing the culture, not about becoming one more good intention gone wrong.

Unless you are an NFL Coach, not one of us has the luxury or time to involve instant replay in our lives/jobs. We all have learned (or maybe we haven’t) to adapt to these unfair situations in our lives and move on. We need a much more flexible, durable, adaptive, compassionate, and skilled professional to move us forward in the 21st Century. Even if we didn’t grow up this way we need to foster and model this “new” behavior for the betterment of mankind. Our future depends on it.

I have to be honest-

I started this high school, and now, two years after and well into college, I’m still doing it.

It’s not because I really believe this is good for kids (I do), or because I want to keep making new friends (I am), or because I want to keep learning more about science and engineering in ways I never will be able to in school (I have and will). It’s really because I just love the competition. I love the challenge. It got in my blood years ago and I just want to play the only game that’s ever really satisfied my competitive side.

I never was able to take part in sports in high school for medical reasons. I never had an outlet for competitive energy till FIRST came along. I just love the feeling of having a really competitive 'bot, working under pressure in the pit to get something fixed in 2 minutes, and most of all, I enjoy working with people whom I consider the best team in FIRST, team 95.

So FIRST to me represents some selfish drives. I appreciate all the good it’s done and doing for the students. Certainly it did all that and more for me- I wouldn’t be in the college I am if not for FIRST. But, the real deep down reason I keep coming back again and again even when I know there are more important things on my plate is that I just love the game(s). If I wasn’t doing this, I don’t know what other game I could be playing where I get to work with so much cool technology, cool people, and cool opportunities to do things no one else gets to.

Maybe I’m just a washed up driver who can’t let go. But I love it.

-Andy A.

FIRST is an egg. What is he talking about you ask. Everyone looks at an egg and knows that it is an egg. BUT what is an egg? It consists of 3 separate items of which if you took 1 away it would no longer be an egg. Each one is a totally different part, each one is needed, each one brings the egg to be what it is. I would suggest that the robot competition is the shell of the egg. The reason is that once the shell is removed you find the life force of FIRST. The inspiration, teamwork, life experiences and much more. Is FIRST a robot building contest? Is an egg the shell?

Right on. The goal of every team ought to be to train students in the technical and program management skills they need to run the whole team themselves. With only a couple of returning students, we were essentially a second-year rookie team this year. Next year, adults will do a lot. I was proud of them at the tournament when they fixed one of our mini-disasters without any adult help. Our other mini-disaster required an adult to help (no time + whirling blades = the adult did the cutting). Next year, my goal is to wander around the pits drinking coffee, chatting with other idle coffee-drinking mentors.

FIRST is like Shrek which is like an ogre which is like an onion, which has many layers, I think he means to say :smiley:

Personally, I think it is a robot building contest, but the contest is not between different teams, it’s between team members and themselves. The six weeks is the most important and longest part of FIRST. The challenge to engineer a robot with a large group of people is a contest to see whether a team can act like team - to learn, to teach, to listen, and to do. The competition celebrates the build period, but it’s not the real contest. By the time you’ve finished the 6 weeks, you have a darn good knowledge of whether you’ve succeeded at participating in that contest. You don’t need a regional event to tell you that.

It’s actually quite easy to get kids interested in science without having them do anything. All you tell them is look what you can do with science. Heheh… Even I couldn’t believe that it’s possible to dip your hand really quickly into liquid nitrogen without anything happening to it. Even Asimo generated a larger response then I would have imagined. There was probably enough people to see it to fill an regional.

the contest is not between different teams, it’s between team members and themselves…

I like this view. the teams I have been on we set objectives for what we wanted our bot to do, and we measured our success by how well we accomplished those goals.

I think its impossible to ‘win’ by shear determination and resources, because there are so many variables in the game. To begin with, you are now allied with two other teams at random, so you only bring 33% of the cards to the game. Winning a match has more to do with luck (like winning the lottery) than skill.

If I can give an example, the year I was on the Xcats, the Fairport team could not get a critical gear they needed in time for the Cleveland regional. Their robot did not move an inch in any of the seeding rounds. Purely by the luck of the draw, they were allied with excellent machines in many rounds.

The Xerox/Xcats team had a great robot that year, a large team, excellent funding, but at the end of the seeding matches the Fairport team with its non-moving robot was higher in the ratings than the Xcats.

I dont relate this as an injustice, but as an example of the amount of luck and chance that is involved. I took a good deal of good-natured ribbing from my mentor friends on the Fairport team that year. I think this illustrates that the ‘contest’ is only a means to see how well you did in designing your machine, not a fair and level playing field to see which team can build the best robot.

I need to point out the other functions on the fairport bot worked great that year, and they did get the gear they needed for their next regional, and were part of the winning alliance their next event. So from their persepective, they did very well that year.