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International Robot Olympics between 16-18 July 2017

The inaugural FIRST Global challenge will be held between 16-18 July, 2017 in Washington, DC. Each country will be represented by its chosen national team, which will compete with its self-assembled robot within constantly changing cooperative alliances of three teams each. One country’s team may win because it achieved the highest score by working within the best collaborative alliances.  But the ultimate goal is to provide all nations and their students an understanding of how STEM careers are a realistic and viable option for young people’s futures, particularly by increasing cooperation among nations through STEM.  

International FIRST Committee (IFC): Global Challenge

In 1989, Dean Kamen established a non-profit organization called FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) http://www.firstinspires.org/ to excite the youth of America and the nation about the value of investing in and pursuing STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).  FIRST’s success has been driven by the enthusiasm of the students as they cooperate together in teams, assembling their own robot to compete in local, regional and national robotic games. Today, over 500,000 students ages 6-18 come together in four different age groups in robotic competitions that include some non-American teams; over 75% of participating students enter a STEM studies. And more than 200 Fortune 500 companies provide funding and mentorship to FIRST and its teams.  

Now, Dean Kamen wants to do the same internationally - to help build the science, engineering, and technology skills needed by nations to work on global challenges together.  He has established a new non-profit, International FIRST Committee (IFC), which is separate from FIRST and based on the model of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Each nation is being invited by the IFC to send a high school-age (15-18 years old) student team to represent its country in the first annual “International Robot Olympics,” 16-18 July 2017 (July 16 is for the Opening Ceremony). The games are named FIRST Global and the inaugural game will be hosted in Washington DC, and will be rotated annually among different nations’ capitals.

While next July’s FIRST Global is being held only for high school-age level students, these annual Olympic robotic games will soon engage youth of all ages with different age-level robotic designs. In addition, there is a vested interest in engaging those countries most in need of STEM educational development through collaboration with those nations who have more advanced STEM programs, as well as with other supportive organizations and sponsors.

The robotics challenge of FIRST Global is one that combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. During each of the numerous game opportunities at FIRST Global, a nation’s team will be randomly placed into a different “alliance” composed of three countries. Two “alliances” - each with three nations’ robots - will face each other on opposing sides of the game field during a 3-minute robotic game. The game will be designed so that during these 3-minute competitions, it will inevitably be the “alliance” whose three teams best collaborate together in using their three robots that wins. The intention is that, as coalitions form and reform throughout the competition, students on individual national teams come to appreciate the value of collaboration during the approximately 7 games to be played over 2 days by each national team. This characteristic of leadership is a much needed skill for future world leaders.

FIRST Global Inaugural, July 2017.  In summary, the inaugural FIRST Global challenge will be held 16-18 July 2017 in Washington, DC. Each country will be represented by its chosen national team, which will compete with its self-assembled robot within constantly changing cooperative alliances of three teams each. One country’s team may win because it achieved the highest score by working within the best collaborative alliances.  But the ultimate goal is to provide all nations and their students an understanding of how STEM careers are a realistic and viable option for young people’s futures, particularly by increasing cooperation among nations through STEM.  

FIRST Global execution.  Over 125 nations have been contacted already and close to half have had the time to commit to a team or are in the process of identifying a student team. Remaining nations are being contacted with the goal of identifying all teams by early January 2017 to ensure that logistical issues - ranging from student passports and visas to receipt of the robot to be assembled and shipped back to Washington, DC - have adequate time to be resolved.

In late January 2017, a website with collaborative tools will be available to provide up-to-date information on FIRST Global, including responsive informational assistance to logistical questions and challenges. The collaborative tools will also allow student teams and their adult mentors to have on-demand engineering assistance about the robot and its construction, including during the period while the students are assembling their robots. Eventually, these collaborative tools will lead to an on-line interactive experience in which students can view tutorials, interact with a mentors and others, write code, virtually design a robot using “parts” that match the physical kit of parts, and compete on-line with alliance partners from around the block or around the globe, virtually.

Team selection is left to each nation. The team may come from one school or an organized group of youth; or it may be done by a selection of students from across the nation or by another means. Teams are to be composed of high school-age youth (15-18 years old), although it is acceptable to have younger students and, on a select basis, a student(s) may be 19 years old. While there is no limit on how many students may be part of the engineering/build team within a nation, the team that travels to Washington, DC, is limited to 3-7 students and 1 adult mentor. The projected cost of the robot, travel, lodging, per diem, robot shipping, etc. is ~$2500 per student/mentor that travels.  However, financial support can readily be discussed for those nations requiring it.

In early April 2017, a robot kit will be shipped to each country team for the students to assemble.  Accompanying the robot kit will be a separate package of “extra” parts - the only parts permitted besides those in the robot kit to best engineer the robot for optimum performance during the competition. When the robot kit is shipped, a game manual will also be provided that has both the rules and the design of the robotic game the teams will participate in. The game’s design will emphasize not just competition, but also collaboration within team “alliances.”  To support this, the game’s design will center on best assembling the robot to address a common challenge facing our global planet -- such as an assurance of clean, sustainable water.

At the end of June 2017, the robot will be shipped back to Washington, DC, where it will meet up later with its country team in the initial FIRST Global challenge, 16-18 July at Constitution Hall. The teams will be housed at George Washington University a few blocks away. Upon game’s end, the robot will be shipped back to each team’s country.

Summary.  The FIRST Global robot Olympics will be an annual culmination of focused STEM/robotic involvement of exponentially increasing student bodies from all nations in growing collaboration. The intent is to enhance the global call for the STEM education of our international student community, while emphasizing the value of nations’ cooperation in addressing the Global Grand Challenges that our planet and people must address in order to thrive as identified by the national engineering and science academies of the United Kingdom, The U.S. and China. The collaborative character of leadership in our youth is the defining basis of FIRST Global’s success.