The FIRST® Robotics Competition is the flagship competition of FIRST. A large-scale robotics competition, FRC® brings together students and mentors to build robots that perform in a competitive but gracious environment against teams from all over the world. In building the robot and doing all the other things that go with an FRC team, students learn valuable life skills like teamwork/collaboration, public speaking, technical science/engineering skills, Gracious Professionalism®, and others. In Australia, FRC teams compete at the Duel Down Under in Sydney or travel to US Regional competitions.
Note: FRC is a robotics competition, but is NOT a robot-fighting contest (everyone asks...). FRC games are designed to be like team sports, and robots are not supposed to be harmed in any way. FRC teams are guided by solid principles or teamwork, graciousness, cooperation, comraderie and professionalism. The game is always as safe as can be ensured, and students are as friendly with other teams as they are with their own.
FRC teams consist of teams of 5-100 non-university students aged 14-18. These students have to work together to design, build and drive robots.
Helping them are their adult mentors, who can come from many possible sources: industry engineers, school teachers, university lecturers, university students, FIRST alumni, etc. These mentors teach, guide and shape the students into the best they can be through their work on technical and non-technical aspects of FRC.
Also supporting the teams are their sponsors. Be they large corporations with an interest in engineering, the school or university the team is based out of, or just the local kebab shop, teams are helped by many supportive groups who provide funding, space, materials, tools, resources, mentors or publicity. Without these sponsors, teams would not be able to function.
In early January every year, the FRC game is released. This game changes every year, and teams are not permitted to use any robot part they built prior to the game being released. This means teams have to start building a new robot every year. To make matters even more interesting, teams have to stop building their robots mid-February, giving them just about six weeks to brainstorm, design, prototype, build, program and learn to drive a robot. The robots themselves are up to 6 ft (2 meters) tall and weigh as much as 120 lbs (50 kgs).
Regardless of what the game is every year, it is played on a 8x16m field (numbers don't quite do it justice...try controlling a 50kg robot from 50 feet away!), and is played by 'alliances' of three teams each. Robots work together to score points, play defense, and fend off other defenders. If this sounds like a sporting event, there's a reason for it: Dean Kamen, the founder of FIRST wanted to make Science, Technology and Engineering interesting to kids, so he designed a competition where people watch feats of engineering with the same gusto and excitement as they would sports matches. In the interest of this goal, most games are also designed to be similar to popular sports: The 2012 game, Rebound Rumble, involved shooting basketballs into hoops. The 2010 game, Breakaway, involved kicking footballs. And this year's game...
- Ultimate Ascent
The 2013 FRC game, Ultimate Ascent, is like a modified game of Ultimate Frisbee played by robots, and with a few twists.
At each side of the arena (16 meters apart), human players stand and control their robots remotely. Above them, there are three large slots (goals) in the wall for the other team. When the game begins, as many as 130 frisbees are released onto the field by the alliances and robots have to try to throw them into the goals on the opposite side of the arena to which their controllers are standing.
At the same time, in the middle of the field, there are two 3-meter tall multi-level steel pyramids. Teams can also get points for climbing these pyramids: the higher they climb, the more points they score.
In order to build the robot during the extremely intensive build season, teams have to design and build mechanical, electrical and software controls systems, as well as integrate them all into one remote-controlled machine. Students have the opportunity to learn skills in all three areas, whether they're interested in shaping and assembling metal, working with electronics, programming controls systems in Java, C++ or National Instruments' LabVIEW, wiring up robots, designing innovative mechanisms, or creating complex autonomous programs to autonomously aim, drive or shoot. Team members also learn cross-field skills like Computer-Aided Design (CAD), proper documentation practices and presenting their ideas to others.
One of the missions of FIRST is to spread the love of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to as many people as possible. In order to achieve this, FIRST celebrates teams who spread STEM to their schools, communities, countries and the world.
FRC encourages this practice by celebrating teams who do this with the highest award an FRC team can win: the Chairman's Award. Teams who win this award at the FIRST Championships enter the prestigious Hall of Fame.
To perform this outreach and present it to FIRST judges, teams do many other things besides building the robot. Team members may design promotional materials, build websites, create animations, write industry-grade business plans, write essays, perform presentations, and lots of other things, depending on the team. Naturally, teams do not have to do any of these things to compete in the robot competition...but these are some of the things that define the teams that embody the spirit of FIRST and act as role models for other teams.
Every year, around the month of March, FRC 'regional' competitions are run. Teams from all over the world travel to a regional to compete and earn their way to the Championship event. Each regional has 24-60 teams competing in the robot game and presenting their outreach to judges. Held in April, the FIRST Championships bring over 400 FRC teams, 6 from each regional, together to play the game with and against each other.
In Australia, all FRC teams compete at the same event - the Duel Down Under (DDU), held in Sydney. This is cheaper and easier for Australian teams to get to than US-based competitions, and is also much later in the year (end of June) so as to cater to the Australian school year. In 2012, 6 teams from NSW, VIC, TAS and QLD competed at DDU, and that number is expected to more than double for 2013.
If you're interested in starting an FRC team at your school, university, community group, etc...great! As long as you can get a decent number (10-30) kids aged 14-18, you can start figuring out how to start a team. For more information, go to Start a Team or School Involvement, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.