After four months of preparation, training, and anticipation, the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy finally received this year’s Official 2011 FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Game, called Logomotion, on January 8. Early Saturday morning, the members and mentors of Team 1717 met at a local company to watch and discuss NASA’s live stream of the game announcement.
This kicks off the team’s “build-season,” in which Dos Pueblos students will have six weeks to design, manufacture, and program their robot to compete in this year’s game. An estimated 55,000 students from 2,073 teams will participate in the competition this year.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a non-profit organization founded in 1989 that aims to encourage student interest in scientific and technical fields. Jon Dudas, President of FIRST, stated in the kickoff broadcast, FIRST is about “changing our culture … FIRST wants to inspire you to dream.” The Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy has competed in the FIRST Robotics Competition for four years as Team 1717. The team attends two regional competitions per year, and has advanced to the international competition in Atlanta three of the last four years.
However, one thing made this year’s kick-off stand apart from previous years. Amir Abo-Shaeer, director of the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy, was invited to speak live at the worldwide broadcast of the FIRST Game Challenge Release in New Hampshire, in recognition of his MacArthur “Genius” Grant. In his speech, he encouraged multitudes of eager students to “follow their passions,” and made the case for inspiring professionals to become educators.
Shaeer was introduced by Neal Bascomb, whose book The New Cool: A Visionary Teacher, His FIRST Robotics Team, and the Ultimate Battle of Brains is coming out this March. The New Cool details the experiences of several FIRST teams, focusing on Team 1717 and its accomplishments. At the kickoff, Bascomb said that “FIRST is a sports story… [it is about] daring yourself to be exceptional.”
Logomotion is played with inner tubes in the shape of FIRST’s logo components: red triangles, white circles, and blue squares. The goal of the game is to place these pieces on the scoring grids located at either end of the playing field. During each match, two alliances of three teams each compete to place the pieces, earning points according to the pegs they hang them from and the pattern the pieces form. During the last ten seconds of the match, teams will have a chance to deploy a “minibot” from their robot, with extra points for teams whose minibots scale a ten-foot pole.
Will.I.Am, a member of the musical group Black Eyed Peas, made an appearance at the kick-off event, describing this year’s game challenge as “dope.” He announced that he has been a big fan of FIRST ever since he first saw a robotics competition, saying “I am inspired by you guys. I traveled around the world, but this is the most inspiring thing; FIRST.”