Why teams SHOULD be excited for the Innovation Challenge!

I saw this discussion earlier, and I thought it might be interesting to explore the other side of this - many teams are initially moving away from the Innovation Challenge for some of the reasons described in the below thread (not being “roboty” enough, open ended, tough to figure out a good starting point…)

The Robot in 3 Days team I’m a part of, Full Moon Robotics, put out a blog post yesterday about the challenge, exploring some ways teams can start to explore a problem area and pick a problem that is interesting and engaging for the team to try to solve.

For me, as a FIRST Alum, this is one of the more exciting challenges that FIRST has put out this year. The things I learned most from FIRST and took into my real life the most are not the weird technical details about how to code a robot with a swerve drive, or the best strategy to reduce cycle times - the most valuable thing I learned from FIRST was how to analyze a problem and create an innovative solution… and the most interesting problems my team had to solve weren’t robot related.

I think teams are overlooking an extremely exciting challenge here. Yes, it’s harder to get started, and much more open ended than the rest of the challenges, but I think teams tackling this challenge will be rewarded far more in the end, both in what they learned along the way and in the actual competition.

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I find this challenge to be exciting as well, but I think one of the major reasons teams might be less interested in the Innovation Challenge is because of the health and fitness topic constraint. When it was first announced I remember being really excited at all of the possible problems that FIRST teams could address in the world.

Absolutely no disrespect to the challenge or the topic (it’s still a cool topic that teams could get really creative with). I’d be slightly disappointed about the challenge topic being narrowed down regardless of what the final topic actually was.

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I can understand that perspective. As someone who doesn’t really spend a lot of time “working out” - I can recognize that I’ve had an aversion to “fitness” related concepts in the past, it doesn’t always seem as exciting as some interesting technical challenge.

That said, I think the prompt for the challenge is a bit broader than just “health and fitness”, but is more focused on “moving and playing.” That’s broad enough to cover many different things, from places where people gather to activities as exciting as FIRST itself.

Could you imagine if this challenge provided the framework for someone to develop an idea as impactful to young people or society as FIRST? That would be amazing!

I also think that FIRST has provided a few examples in the Innovation Challenge manual that are broad enough to be as exciting as “robots” to most FIRST students.

Do we know if the first round submissions all have remote interviews or does that only take place at the semi-finalist level?

If first round does have interviews, what is the date range that happens, and what is the amount of prepared material needed for that?

My main confusion/concern about the challenge was I was confused by the March 4th deadline, which I thought was going to be really hard to go through idea generation & also preparing materials. Especially as the most interested students are working on Chairman’s until about the late Feb deadline and then they might want to work on a robot occasionally too.

I see the semi-finalist submission is April 21st and then I assume an interview after that date, but I didn’t really catch if there is two rounds of interviews, or if the first level advancement is only based on the strength of the idea (and 500 word description submitted)?

I think teams are hesitant about the Innovation Challenge since there is not as clear cut of a starting point when compared to the traditional FIRST challenges. However, I was surprised to hear that teams are not as interested in this challenge as all the other options.

While “active play and movement” might not have been teams’ top choice, it is a fundamental part of the human experience that I think we are starting to lose as technology has become more common for young children. The topic is open ended and broad enough to allow teams to explore areas such as biomedical engineering.

I am excited for the Innovation Challenge as an FRC alumni. I agree with @weaversam8. FIRST is my favorite STEM activity that I have participated in because of the additional skills that FIRST has taught me.

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It looks like all submissions have interviews. FIRST really leans into the judging process being a learning opportunity for teams, so it makes sense that they’d want as many students as possible to participate.

From the challenge manual:

Teams who complete the FIRST Innovation Challenge submission receive a remote interview with a panel of Judges. We prefer team members presenting information to judging have access to a web camera and be on screen. The default format is a video conference, but a call-in number can be provided if needed.

As far as what prepared material to bring, it looks like that’s all in Section 4.5. It looks like it’s a 2 minute pitch, and then a 3 minute more detailed presentation, followed by 10 minutes for questions from judges.

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Just how the crossover is for us, I think we’ll hope to interview late as possible, so I do wonder what the judging cutoff date is. Our chairman’s submitters are interested in Innovation Challenge, but we are starting from scratch with ideas, so developing materials that are competitive will be a challenge, particularly when they are focused on judged awards the next couple months. I guess 5 minutes of pitch is not too long, but really developing the visual aspects and getting things polished will be hard, so I hope they make that known in the judging documents. To judge more on the potential of a solution than the polish of the presentation at that point, and then give opportunity to polish up the presentations in round two because that is the timeframe when students that were doing judged awards will have more free time to contribute.

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My team chose IR@Home and the Innovation Challenge and decided to sit out the Game Design Challenge. In our pre-season survey, more people (mentors, captains, AND members-at-large) were interested in the Innovation Challenge than the Game Design Challenge. Personally, I’m the most excited about the Innovation Challenge - it’s much closer to the kinds of engineering I’ve done in college and my career than robotics is, and I think it’ll be a really great experience for the team.

As for the theme - before Kickoff, I met a couple times with the captain who’s going to lead the Innovation Challenge, and neither of us could really think of a good problem in our community to address. After Kickoff, with the fitness/movement theme articulated, we came up with six or seven together, and at the team brainstorm last night they came up with dozens more - now we have a 2.5 pg google doc of ideas. Lots of pretty good ones, a handful of mediocre ones, and a couple that I think could be really exciting and fruitful. I think it helps that the majority of our team members play a sport.

I think there’s less chatter on CD about the Innovation Challenge because it’s so open-ended - there’s not a million rules to interpret or broad strategies to debate. It’s also pretty focused on your IP - for a robot, you can post about the pros and cons of strategies like focusing on a climber vs a high goal shooter without giving away anything other teams could really “copy”, but a large part of this challenge is coming up with a good idea in the first place. Other than a few questions about the schedule & interview logistics (as seen above), the only thing I think most teams could ask at this stage is “So what ideas has your team come up with?”, and no one wants to give their ideas away (at least so early in the game - just like robot reveal videos, I think teams will become more open about their plans once it’s too late for others to copy them effectively).

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