The New Cool

How to be cool as a teenager?  Be the High School quarterback?  Prom Queen?  Nope – if you believe author Neal Bascomb it will be more about competing and winning in robot building competitions like FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics.

FIRST was started by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway.  Teams have a fixed time frame to build a robot that competes in a game.  Mr. Bascomb’s book details the 6 week journey starting with the release of the video design specification and then follows the team through their build efforts and on into their experiences during competition.

So, is FIRST cool?  Absolutely.  I have some first hand experience.  Both of my boys are on their high school team.  About 15 kids build a shopping cart sized robot that is remotely controlled and plays a game on a field the size of a basketball court.  It’s simply astounding.  The robots are built from mostly off the shelf parts (motors, chain drives, extruded metal for frames, hydraulic actuators, pneumatic actuators, pulleys, stepper motors, motion controllers, and of course software).   Teams are formed to build various components of the robot.  Prototypes are built and tested.  Pieces are integrated.  Designs are refined.  Just like the real world.

This past weekend was the regional competition in Pittsburgh.  Our favorite robot did well making it into the quarterfinals.  In the end, all competitors were absolutely crushed by a “parent designed” and built robot that was like Lebron James competing against the middle school team.  That’s life – sometimes you’re out classed.  But our team, the kids, did every single bit of the design, build, and test – a priceless experience.

So, will FIRST be the new cool displacing the stereotypical cool-kids in your local high school?  I think we have a way to go.  But I can tell you the kids that were on our school’s team came from a varied mix of backgrounds including football players, soccer players, etc.  So who knows?  Regardless, a fabulous event to participate in.  Here’s to hoping my kids stick with it for all four years of high school.

If you’d to see the FIRST video description of this year’s game:
https://www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms/frc/content.aspx?id=18762

If you’d like to read a book review on the New Cool:
https://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001424052748703775704576162421287300668.html

I welcome your comments.
Mike Brannan