FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) is an nonprofit organization aiming to inspire children to follow paths in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields. There are four competitions under the FIRST umbrella: FIRST LEGO League Jr. (FLL Jr.), FIRST LEGO League (FLL), FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), and FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). While all competitions require teams to build a robot to complete challenges, they also encourage teams to develop skills needed to be a successful engineer. These include Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition, which both encapsulate the idea of competing as professionals, but also learning from each other and cooperating as friends.
FIRST Lego League Jr.
FLL Jr is the youngest level of competition, for children kindergarten through third grade. Teams of five identify a real world problem and build a lego model to represent their solution.
FIRST Lego League
FLL is the second youngest level of competition, aimed at fourth to eighth graders. Teams of fewer than ten students work together to create and program an autonomous robot out of LEGO Mindstorms. The robot has 2 minutes and 30 seconds to complete missions to score points on a 4 ft by 8 ft playing field. Teams also have to create a research project based off of that year’s challenge. They have to identify a real-world problem and create a solution, often using technology. For example, one year’s challenge was Animal Allies, so teams might find a problem that can be solved by using help from animals, or create something that facilitates using animals for help. As well as being judged on robot performance and their research project, teams are also judged on Core Values, meaning they have to demonstrate good sportsmanship and team work.
FIRST Tech Challenge
FTC is for high school students, though it is run on a smaller scale than FRC. Teams build a robot that fits within an 18 in cube to score points on a 12 ft by 12 ft playing field. As with all FIRST competitions, the robot has 2 min 30 sec to complete tasks, however, in FTC, the robot is required to be autonomous for 30 seconds at the start of each match and tele-operated for the rest. Each match, there are two sides called alliances, each with two randomly chosen teams. This means that teams have to be good at working with other teams one match, but working against them in another match. In addition, we make an engineering notebook to document our team’s progress, design process, and to collect data.
FIRST Robotics Competition
FRC is marketed by FIRST as “the varsity sport for the mind”. The teams are generally associated with a high school and often have more than 40 kids participating. The robot are huge and heavy, as the playing field is so much larger than FTC, and they tend to be less precise, but stronger than FTC robots. In FRC, the autonomous period is only 15 seconds long and the alliances are made up of three teams. In addition to robot judging, teams are heavily evaluated on team safety and community involvement. FRC competitions are incredibly fun to watch, as the matches are run as sports matches.