Who Knew Stacking Totes Could Be Such Fun?! FIRST: More Than Robots, Indeed.

I had no idea stacking plastic totes could be so exciting. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics is an amazing opportunity for students. Adult mentors work with student team members to brainstorm strategy, teach machining and programming skills, promote and manage a team, and transfer knowledge gained from life experiences that students will benefit from long after their time with robotics. This year’s competition challenge for the high school level teams was themed “RECYCLE RUSH” and involved stacking totes and recycling containers on platforms while working cooperatively with other teams to maximize points.  I wrote this post at the beginning of the season, as the new game was revealed.  Details on the upcoming Minnesota State Robotics Tournament can be found at the end of this post.

This is my first year of exposure to the sport, and I had the opportunity to cheer on two of our area schools’ FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) teams, East (Daredevils Team 2512) and Denfeld (DNA Robotics Team 4009), at two different regional events.  The competitions are full of energy, music, and technological inspiration. The events also hold constant reminders of the values of FIRST Robotics:  collaboration, hard work and persistence, and the overriding FIRST value of “gracious professionalism.”

The Duluth East Daredevils had secured a berth at the World Championships in April by winning the Chairman’s Award at the Northern Lights Regional in Duluth.  FIRST Robotics website explains this award: “The most prestigious award at FIRST, it honors the team that best represents a model for other teams to emulate and best embodies the purpose and goals of FIRST.”

To help friends and family get a glimpse of what the sport of robotics is all about, and to encourage them to support the team as they raised funds for the World Championship, I put together this short slide show (which includes a brief video excerpt of a match) from the team’s regional competitions:

At the World Championships in the FRC level of the competition alone, there were over 600 teams — including teams from Israel, China, Mexico, Canada and Australia, as well as the United States — with 8 different division fields competing concurrently.

FIRST Worlds arena panorama 2015
The Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, site of the FRC World Championships.

Duluth East Daredevils compete in the World Robotics Championships

The Einstein field at the FRC World Championships.
Recycle RUSH — totes, totes, everywhere!

In the FIRST press release following the conclusion of the 4 days of competition involving all of the different FIRST robotics programs, it was noted that over 18,000 students participated, with an estimated 40,000 spectators watching the final round of FRC competition!  It was a particularly memorable experience for me, because my son’s team, the Duluth East Daredevils, was one of the teams competing in that final round!

Duluth East Daredevils celebrate their Hopper subdivision win!

After winning their sub-division (Hopper), the four-team alliance of which the Duluth East Daredevils were a part went on to compete in the final rounds played on the so-called “Einstein” field.  The Daredevils and another Minnesota team were the first to progress this far at the FIRST Robotics World Championships, and the Daredevils went on with their alliance to finish second overall, finishing the highest of any Minnesota team to-date.

Most importantly, these students experienced global camaraderie, and realized that collaboration and gracious professionalism are critical to success.  From FIRST’s website:

FIRST Founder Dean Kamen urged students to inspire the world and to use what they’ve learned from their FIRST Mentors and Coaches as a tool: “Don’t leverage your experience here as a privilege but rather a responsibility,” he said. “We expect you to go off to college and give; go off to industry and give. Figure out how to reach people who are not already your friends or your neighbors. Get a little out of your comfort zone and help us bring a more diverse community to FIRST.

Team 2512, Duluth East Daredevils
FRC Team 2512, the Duluth East Daredevils, at the 2015 St. Louis World Championships

All FIRST Robotics competitions are free and open to the public — and hundreds of volunteers are needed to make each event a success. After volunteering at the Duluth regional event and the World Championships in St. Louis, I find myself encouraging everyone to check out a competition, support your local robotics team with time or money … This “sport of the mind” is worth supporting.

Come watch the Minnesota State Robotics Tournament on May 16, 2015 at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus and see for yourself why robotics continues to grow in popularity.  The schedule for this free event is: Opening Ceremonies at 8:30 a.m.; Preliminary Rounds involving randomly drawn alliances from 9:00 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. and 2:00 to 2:45 p.m.; Semifinals, Third Place and Championship matches in best 2-out-of-3 competition involving the top four qualifying teams that choose their own alliance partners begin at 3:15 p.m.; Awards will be presented at about 4:30 p.m. 

Ciao! ~ Kat

3 responses to “Who Knew Stacking Totes Could Be Such Fun?! FIRST: More Than Robots, Indeed.”

  1. It’s funny–we really never know what can be fun until we try it. This sounds very cool. Barry is always getting me involved in crazy stuff that I am sure will be no fun. And then it is!


    • Michigan is a big FIRST Robotics state — you and Barry should look into volunteering at a regional/district event sometime! You’d have a ball (no science/technical skills required, although plenty of positions for the STEM-oriented folks, too)!

      Liked by 1 person

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