FIRST, or For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology, is an organization founded by inventor Dean Kamen in 1989 in order to develop ways to inspire students in engineering and technology fields. The organization is the foundation for the FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST Lego League, FIRST Lego League Junior, and FIRST Tech Challenge competitions.
FIRST seeks to promote a philosophy of teamwork and collaboration among engineers and encourages competing teams to remain friendly, helping each other out when necessary. The term frequently applied to this ethos is “gracious professionalism,” a term coined by Woodie Flowers which supports respect towards one’s competitors and integrity in one’s actions. As Dean Kamen is so fond of saying, FIRST is not about building robots. At every level of competition FIRST is about getting people involved in Engineering in a fun and interesting way.
The first program developed through FIRST was the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), which is designed to inspire high school students to become engineers by giving them real world experience working with professional engineers to develop a robot. The inaugural FIRST Robotics Competition was held in 1992 in the Manchester Memorial High School gymnasium. As of 2009, over 3,000 high school teams totaling over 37,000 students from Brazil, Canada, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, the United States, the United Kingdom. The competition challenge changes each year, and the teams can only reuse certain components from previous years. The robots weigh around 120 lb, depending on each year’s rules. The kit issued to each team contains a base set of parts. Registration and the kit of parts together cost about $5000 USD. In addition to that, teams are allowed to spend another $3500 on their robot. The purpose of this rule is to lessen the influence of money on teams’ competitiveness. Details of the game are released on the first Saturday in January, and the teams are given six weeks to construct a robot that can accomplish the game’s tasks. In 2008, teams participated in 41 regional competitions throughout March in an effort to qualify for the FIRST Championship in Atlanta, Georgia in April. Previous years’ Championships have been held in Houston, Texas and at Walt Disney World’s Epcot. Each year the First Robotics Competition has scholarships for the participants in the program. In 2008 there was $9.8 million worth of scholarships from 108 colleges and universities, associations, and corporations. To find out more about FIRST visit www.firstinspires.org.