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MIT student blogger Laura N. '09

FIRST fun by Laura N. '09

And now...the much anticipated (but never duplicated!) photo-filled account of the coolest robotics competition ever!

Quite a few Fridays ago I locked myself in my room so I could get as much schoolwork done as possible. I knew I wouldn’t be getting much done that weekend. Why? I spent all day Saturday watching an intense compeition. What kind of competition, you ask?

A robotics competition, of course!

That Saturday was the Manchester FIRST Regional, and I was psyched to be there.

What is FIRST? Only the greatest thing ever, basically. There are over 1,000 high school teams nationwide that compete in FIRST. In early January, a challenge is announced to the teams at the kickoff event. The challenge is actually a game- two alliances of three robots each compete in a fast-paced game. This year the game involved scoring in goals on the ground as well as goals high in the air (hence the name of this year’s competition, “Aim High.”) Bonus points are awarded for robots that are parked on a small ramp at the end of the match. Teams get 6 jam-packed weeks to design and build a robot that they think will do well at this game. (The game changes each year, so this is always a fresh challenge!) Then they compete at regionals scattered across the country. There’s also a crazy national competition a few weeks after that.

I joined FIRST during my junior year of high school, and it was seriously awesome. But then (sad story ahead!) we lost our funding and our advisor didn’t really want to keep up with the time committment, and that was the end of Team 30. =(

I knew that MIT mentored a FIRST team (Team 97, which consists of students from several local high schools), but I decided to join FSAE instead. But then Adelaide ’09 brought me back to earth. She’s a college student mentor for Team 97, and she invited me to the Manchester regional with the team. It was so awesome that I even stuck around for an extra day after classes ended for spring break just to go to the Boston regional too.

Manchester was incredible. Team 1721 was really friendly and FIRST-y – they won the Rookie Inspiration Award and I was so psyched for them. Team 1276 won the spirit award, which was well-earned. No one on their team walked anywhere- they danced. They were so much fun to be around. Team 58 gets a special shoutout for handing out saftey glasses, as does team 97 for letting me act like an idiot (while wearing a Team 97 shirt, no less) and cheering them on at both regionals, despite the fact that most of them had never even seen me before. I had such a great time at Manchester- I went around all day grinning from ear to ear because I was just so excited to be back at a FIRST competition.

Oh FIRST. Where else can you find people laughing at nerdy jokes, cheering and screaming about engineering and design, exclaiming over the sheer awesomeness of navigation by sound or high quality robotic video feeds, and scrambling around to lend their competitors safety glasses and springs and drill bits? Where else can you find flashing lights and bright colors and face painting and colorful pins and crazy costumes and yelling and cheering and people dancing in the aisles and teams with names like “Mechanical Mayhem” and “The PVC Pirates”?

Nowhere, that’s where. *grin*

And now for the pictures!

This is what a typical regional looks like on the last day of competition (showing your team colors is an important part of FIRST):

This is the field- where the matches actually take place and the robots are put to the test.

This is the pit area- where teams keep their robot between matches and work to fix up anything that may not be working exactly as planned…

The drive team consists of 4 people: a driver (who moves the robot around), the operator (who pushes all the buttons and operates the robot’s functions), a human player (who gets to throw balls around), and a team coach (who keeps everyone calm in the heat of competition). In this picture, you can see that Team 97 has successfully navigated up the ramp for some bonus points. Go team!

Team 97 in action.

FIRST isn’t Battlebots- but it can get rough out there.

Team 97 is the “RoboRuminants.” Get it? Cows? (Yeah, it took me a loooong time to catch on to that one, so no worries.)

At the end of the regional, everyone packs their robot into crates to be shipped off to the next location- if they’re lucky, it’s another regional, or even nationals.

Nehalita said this awhile ago: “I was talking to one of my friends who was experiencing her first regional as an alumni and she said it was quite different… some emotions were: boring, depressing, stressfree.” Watching as an alumni is definitely very different. It was pretty sad for me- I got to watch people doing a lot of stuff that I never got a chance to because I didn’t have a team my senior year. Plus I was a lot more reserved as usual. You want to make sure you’re not taking over when you could be letting the high school students learn things. You may have moved onto cooler things as a college student, but oh to be a high schooler on a FIRST team…*grin* Of course, all these thoughts are going on in your head during a FIRST regional, where there is nowhere near enough time/space/quiet to sit around and feel sorry for yourself. It’s mostly just excitement, but there’s a little nostalgia in there too.

On to the Boston Regional– it was the first year Boston had a regional, but you would never know. Lots of fun to be had. =)

The MC at Boston was insane. I tried to get good pictures but it was absolutely impossible. He zoomed around the field on roller blades and kept insisting that Team 97 was wearing “tangerine” and once even referred to it as “that fabulous color.” Hee. He was pretty awesome.

The Boston pit area. Full of busy people, hard at work.

The Boston field area.

The awards ceremony happens after the elimination tournament. There are awards for winning the regional, as well as Team Spirit, Industrial Design, Quality, and lots others. Winning any of these awards is a pretty sweet deal, so even if your robot doesn’t do so hot in the actual competition, you can still get some recognition and feel pretty good about yourself.

Team 97’s robot. It was quite the sturdy little robot. Sometimes teams will give out their own awards, and Team 97 received “Best Defensive Robot” from two separate teams at the Boston Regional. Way to go, guys!



That, my friends, is water-jetted diamondplate. I have no words for the sheer AWESOMENESS that is this picture.

FIRST makes my inner nerd happy.

Responses to comments:

Evan said:
Hope to see ya around at CPW, Laura. I wonder how much of a chance I’ll have of actually finding you, but I guess only time will tell.
Attention all blog followers: keep an eye on your CPW schedules. There will be an obvious and appropriately named chance to “meet the bloggers” during the weekend. Plus I’ll be around at the help/registration desk (not sure which hours yet), and I’ll be hanging out at just about every event hosted by Burton-Conner (one of my best friends is CPW chair, so I’ll be there whether I like it or not!) Everyone on campus is psyched for CPW (although probably not as psyched as you guys all are), so there will be plenty of chances to meet the bloggers- and everyone else!

Anonymous said:
Is it possible to apply for transfer?? I saw on the MIT fact that they only accepted about 14 transfers last year. do u know the rate of acceptance for transfers?? I really want to apply fo transfer and I am planning to do it maybe one and a half years later.
All I know about transfer admissions is that they’re insanely competitive. Your best bet is to check out the transfer admissions website, take math/science/MIT-like classes at school, and to get in touch with the admissions office. Good luck!

Anonymous said:
I’m planning to miss the Admitted Students party in my area because of other plans but am coming to CPW. Is that much of a big deal?
Nope, not at all. Admitted Student meetings are just a chance to get to meet some of your fellow ’10s and make some new friends. They’re fun to go to (plus it’s always funny to look back a year later and realize, “wow I totally met that person at this admitted students meeting and they are nothing like I remember…”), but no big deal if you miss them.

Anonymous said:
If I go to CPW from far away, will that significantly affect my future chances of FinAid?
Interesting question. I’m not the definitive source on this, but I give it a resounding “no.” The finaid office has better things to do than to track everyone who attends CPW.

Tish said:
Congrats on passing the EMT exam! I’m currently in the middle of my EMT-B class here in New York and will be testing in May. I think it’s so cool that you’re a part of the MIT-EMS! I’ve been riding with my local corps for 2 years now and definitely would like to join the MIT service when I get there in the fall. Did I read that you get to drive the ambulance as well? That’s awesome! What I wanted to ask you was, how have you been managing with all your school work and EMS on top of it? Are you left with any free time? Well congrats again and hopefully I’ll see you at a drill in the fall!
Great question. I’ll let you know when I know. =) I’ve only ever worked one shift on the ambulance, so I’m not really qualified to answer. Here is what I do know: in order to be considered “an active member” of MIT-EMS, you’re required to staff the ambulance for 49 hours each semester. Plus, there are 4 general body meetings (which take place in the evenings and each last an hour or two) and 4 drills sessions (there are two sessions-Sunday morning or Sunday afternoon- each lasts 4 hours and you get to choose your session) each semester. You’re only allowed to miss one of each. I haven’t worked on the ambulance much, but attending the meetings and drill sessions is really no big deal. As for staffing the ambulance- you get to make your own schedule and of course you can do homework on shift- you just can’t count on it since you never know when you’ll be getting a call. So there’s a lot to keep in mind, but the 49 hours works out to about a shift every other week, and the scheduling is pretty flexible. Oh, and just so you know- free time is rare around here. Most people fill up their “free” time with sports or clubs or EMS or writing admissions blogs- and then it’s not free time anymore, is it? =) Oh, and as for driving the ambulance, all of MIT-EMS is student run- so yes, we do. There’s a lot of training and practice to go through first, though.

Momchil said:
Obviously, I can’t just let it go.

So, can someone answer me just one short, sweet and to the point question, just like Laura’s thoughts:

Why are the best female chess players no match to the best male chess players?

What, discrimination and discouragement again? I, for one, don’t think so.
OK, listen. First of all, don’t start your comments here with “now, I do not want to engage myself with so controversial an opinion here in those blogs, but…” when you are clearly enjoying all of the controversy that you succeeded in creating. Second of all, you have clearly never seen me in front of a physics problem. And you know what, Einstein may have been a man but Marie Curie was not, so I don’t really see your point. You clearly want to start a big argument with me about this, and I’m sorry to tell you that it’s not going to happen. As a woman who attends one of the most prestigious engineering schools in the world, I’m not going to get up every morning, attend hours of math and physics classes, spend hours of my free time building cars and robots, spend hours after that working on challenging psets, only to end my day by trying to convince you that I even have the capacity to be as intelligent as the average male. I just refuse to do that. You may think that I am disrespecting your opinion, but there’s just no way I’m even going to entertain the idea that you’re proposing. Sorry. Oh, and one more thing- if you’re going to start a whole debate about how you think men are naturally smarter than women, don’t end your comments with some patronizing line about how you think I’m “cute.” It doesn’t make you look like you’re “not some women-hater, or someone who looks down on women,” it makes you look like a patronizing sexist jerk who only values women based on their looks. Just so you know.

8 responses to “FIRST fun”

  1. thekeri says:

    Oh, Nehalita will love this post once she sees it.

  2. Sulinya says:

    The robots are so cute! Wow, I’m incredibly excited about MIT!!! I’d love to do this!

  3. nehalita says:

    thekeri is SO right.

    Wow so many colors! I can see Think Pink in the stands over there.

    And the waterjetted diamondplate is just…. hot. I can’t think of any other words to use (darn you Paris Hilton).

    And as for your comments on FIRST, yes, I don’t think you can find another competition quite like it. Dancing, laughing, crying, strategizing, scrutinizing, competing, helping, inspiring, learning… oh the list goes on forever.

    Whoo yay FIRST. The pics made my day.

  4. galenbrethil says:

    Hey Laura! I just finished bothering you guys down at the Princeton thing earlier this evening (I’m the girl in a stripe-ey shirt who whined about how her little sister needs to stop memorizing pi), and am back to bother some more. (it’s like http://www.potterpuppetpals.com/bothering.html )

    Anyway, between meeting you and other robotics-involved kids down there and seeing this post here, it made me really wonder how I never managed to get involved in robotics. And I think the reason is that my desk is messy.

    Seriously.

    I went to the first two meetings, got the sign-up forms, said “I’ll fill these out tomorrow,” put them on my desk, and haven’t seen them since. Then, all my robotics friends ran away to Annapolis for several days while I sat in math class and learned about the R-K method all by my poor, lonely self, and mourned my failure to become a robotics-er. Seriously, though, it looks like a great experience and everyone I know who’s ever been involved in FIRST has just been – incredibly, giddily, enthusiastic about it.

    So now that I’ve learned my lesson, I just have to make sure that I don’t lose the thank-you-yes-I-want-to-attend-MIT form to the depths of my desk. Because as much as I regret missing out on high school robotics, I think I (and my inner nerd wink ) would regret missing out on MIT even more. ^_^

  5. Jim says:

    nice team pic, though the angle it was taken at blocked me out mostly, but my ear can be seen at the side of dan’s head

  6. Anonymous says:

    lolol Momchil just got owned.

  7. Adelaide says:

    Just got back from the Toronto Regional, where I saw our good friends Karthik, Woodie Flowers, Team 1547 (Where’s Waldo), and the number-one-seeded 1114, among others. And where I also saw an alliance try to invite 549 (the Devil Dawgs) to join, only to be met with blank stares and to be told that they weren’t there and had in fact been in Boston the previous week. I thought it was funny. And, in case you haven’t seen this, you can now vote on your favourite “FIRST anthem”: http://www.usfirst.org/wsurveys/FMPro?-db=wCollector_.fp5&-lay=web_survey&-format=start.html&t_spu=81-zbhc&-new

    I personally voted for the “rocking out scientifically” one, just because it got stuck in my head longer and therefore fulfilled its purpose as a theme song. So there’s your FIRST update for the week! See you tomorrow!

  8. MEWAEL says:

    hi I am writting this message for you just to introduce my self and give me some advice on your campus so please give me a contacte.

    Thank you.