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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

FIRST Robotics Kickoff by Matt McGann '00

Things go into Overdrive at a reception at Dean Kamen's house.

Last night, after a day of reading the first batch of regular action applications, I grabbed a Zipcar Prius and set a course for New Hampshire. After battling traffic caused by the likes of Barack Obama and Ron Paul, I arrived in Bedford, New Hampshire, home to inventor and FIRST founder Dean Kamen.

Today is the kickoff to the FIRST Robotics season. And, as is the FIRST tradition, each year on the night before the Kickoff, Dean Kamen hosts a reception at his enormous hilltop mansion, “WestWind.” The hundreds of invited guests include sponsors, mentors, and coaches.

Among the folks I saw at the reception were Prof. Woodie Flowers, my old dormmate Mina ’03 (who is now working for Kamen’s company, DEKA), and JKim’s former roommate, Neha ’10 (representing FIRST Team 97). And perhaps I also saw someone from your team…

While the company at the event was amazing, the real star of the night was WestWind itself. Coming up the long, winding driveway, one of the first things you see is a large wind turbine, optimally placed atop the hill for maximum power generation. Then, just across the lake, you see the giant house itself. When you enter WestWind, you see a 25-ton, 3-story tall steam engine. It’s beautiful. The house is full of fun gadgets like that (none as large as the steam engine), like a chess-playing robot and a steam-powered computer.

As I looked for a bathroom, I saw a sign that read:


…Heliport? Heliport? Did I read that correctly? Yes, Kamen has, in addition to a garage (for his cars), a heliport (for his two helicopters).

In addition to a heliport, Kamen also has in his home a machine shop (with two lathes, two mills, and a CNC), an electronic shop (with lots of fun gadgetry), a personal cinema/screening room, and indoor swimming pool. Cameras were not allowed at the event (or I would have taken pictures for you and the blog), but you can find pictures on the Internet here.

It will be exciting to see what teams come up with in this new season. This year’s competition, FIRST Overdrive (competition animation here), is sure to be quite interesting (40″ trackballs?). Good luck to all 1500+ teams!

Selected MIT Robotics links:

28 responses to “FIRST Robotics Kickoff”

  1. Sam (xy) says:


    I think this is the only instance in which a comment like this is appropriate.

  2. Jing Jing says:

    GO TEAM 1594!!! =D

  3. Kai says:

    My high school in Toronto competed this year. We had never competed before, so a friend and I really pushed to found a robotics club at our school.

    The competition was a lot tougher than expected, but they’ll be back next year!

    What an awesome event.

  4. @Matt:
    Wow ! You are so lucky to be invited there! I am going there some day in the future, I hope. Who will not be inspired to read this entry and check out the pictures of this gigantic place ?! Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience.

  5. Anonymous says:

    2642 reppin GVegas

  6. I’m so jealous of 97’s machine shop (not mention their mentors!).

    The playing field is going to be pretty crowded with 4 huge trackballs and 6 robots trying to drive in a circle as fast as possible. There’s a total of 520 pounds, including the balls, and that could lead to a *lot* of momentum…

  7. Karen says:

    I *just* got back from our own kickoff event (go team 1525!) and I have to say that FIRST is going to be the only thing that can take my mind off of my MIT decision for the next six weeks smile

    Also, our grocery store had a sale on soda and I stocked up on 10 bottles of Mountain Dew. The season is upon us once again!

    This competition should be interesting, we’re definitely brainstorming nonstop for our first design meeting tomorrow. I’m especially excited to program this year – the remote looks SUPER fun to play with!

  8. Piper '11 says:

    I want a heliport…

  9. Anon9'12 says:

    I WANT A HELICOPTER!! (Plus a licence or cert. to pilot it, OBVIOUSLY!!! O.O!!!)
    Of course, I suppose that a heliport would come with it…

    @Mr. Matt McGann: Wow! You got invited to that? (Next year, do you think that you could take a couple MIT undergrads–as in, including me smile–with you too? raspberry)

    The live broadcast was still pretty cool–I can’t believe we get to do something similar to the NASA Spirit/Opportunity Mars Rovers! Now THAT is SOOOO COOL!! (Waaaay better than a helicopter…) WAAHHOOO!! Can’t wait!

  10. '' says:

    Oh yeah…

    Rah! Rah! RAH! Go TEAM 1678! WAH! HooHAH!

  11. Muz says:

    Wow, a 25-ton steam engine sounds scary. And so does the chess-playing robot. Somehow I get the feeling that it’d beat me in chess raspberry

  12. Noelle says:

    Wow, was I surprised to come on to MIT Admissions to see this! I was at our kickoff event and strategy/brainstorming meeting this afternoon (108!) and I’m quite mentally exhausted. I’ll need tonight to let the game sink in, watch the animation and read the manual over and over, and then start brainstorming for real. We had a half-field set up and those track balls are ridiculously humongous! I am 5’4, and I could barely pick one up. It’s an interesting game, but it doesn’t seem like a favorite. Good luck to all teams (perhaps I’ll see some of you at the Championships?)!

    I have to make it up to the official kickoff eventually!

  13. Yuzhi says:

    Agree about the track balls! 40 inches in DIAMETER!!!
    First, blowing it up was a big problem! We needed a high volume low pressure air output. Bike pump just didn’t work. Blowing it up the manual way would turn many people’s faces purple. The pneumatics compressor was just not fast enough. Sooo…. we resorted to using the good o’ vacuum cleaner (with the right sized pneumatics tubing, of course)! After we completely inflated it, it then refused to fit through the door. ( They should have at least made it smaller than the doors!AHH) So a bit of deflating, and then inflating again.
    The whole hybrid of IR and autonomous seems pretty cool.

    This is when the sleepless nights begin!

  14. Rachel'12 says:

    I was going to be a second semester senior…


    Did anyone notice, in section 6 of the manual, that there’s velcro on the alliance station shelves this year? I guess they’re expecting us to get bashed hard. Hey, I wouldn’t mind contributing to the overall momentum with a crazy fast drivetrain smile

  15. Anonymous says:

    Since we aren’t suppose to drive backwards this year (assuming no head on collisions), I really hope the gripper/arm design we end up with don’t get deformed too badly. It always got rammed on in past years.

  16. Noelle says:

    @Rachel: according to last year’s manual, there was velcro on the alliance stations last year, so I don’t think this addition has anything to do with the game. It seems like there won’t be a lot of combative and head on defense action this year.

    @Anonymous: even though you don’t have to worry about robots crashing into your gripper, those huge balls could fall from 6ft up or from bouncing and still cause lots of damage. Build sturdy!

    Best wishes on FIRST Overdrive everyone!

  17. y2+C says:

    Matt, I’m insanely jealous of you. Yup.

    @Anonymous: You can drive in the clockwise direction, you just have to stay within that leg of the field. At least, that’s how I interpreted <G22>. Murphy’s Law is your friend! (Oh the ironies…)

  18. Amy says:

    LOL at the FIRST comment =]
    Yeahh this year’s game is a challenge! I can’t even grab onto the nylon-covered 40″ trackballs…

  19. Anonymous says:

    It won’t be as bad as the rack ‘n roll since in that teams are basically driving to block each other.
    Since there are so many robots on the field, if you try driving clockwise in that tiny space, you are probably “obstructing traffic”.Might as well drive the right way and get more points.

  20. Hi All,

    This comment has nothing to do with this Post by Mr. Matt.

    Actually i am a Desperate MIT Aspirant from India. I am just crazy about MIT. I want my undergraduation from this college at any cost!!!!

    This college just rocks!!!!

    At i’ve seen Mr. Matt hosting some of the Zig-Zag shows, and i just came to know that he is into some Administrative post in MIT Office Of Admissions.

    I am just damn too crazy about MIT.

    I am applying for Freshman admission. And i was unable to get myself registered for the SAT tests. Although, i came to know that i can sit as a Standby Registrant, and obviously i am doing the same (sitting as a standby registrant)

    Also, i am putting in my every effort to get selected, the final decision lies with Office Of Admissions.

    I’m sure i’ll make it through…

    Allright, now i am signing off…
    and going to read this post.


  21. E. Rosser says:

    I went downstate to Capital College in MD to pick up our team’s (1629- “The Garrett Coalition”) kit of parts. And so began the daze that was my weekend… This game ROCKS- so much cooler AND more crowd-friendly than Rack ‘n’ Roll. Picking up a tube is one thing: picking up a huge, heavy, slick-surfaced, aerodynamically inept trackball is another, requiring lots ‘o’ Physics. Hooray for Physics.
    And Matt got to go to Dean Kamen’s HOUSE!?! The jealousy vector is written in green and has a large magnitude in YOUR direction! Happy build season, everyone!

  22. In that sized field, you’ve got to do something spectacular to stand-out!

  23. _MIT_ says:

    WOW! I’m jealous… you got to go to Dean’s house? I’ve heard a lot about that place!

    I don’t really like the game this year though, it seems really repetitive… oh, and for those of you that don’t know yet, there’s no way to retrieve the second trackball according to the actual rules, since robots aren’t allowed to extend past 6′ on the opposing alliance’s side.

    and the lack of defense really bothers me this year. defense is what my team (226) is known for…

  24. Go 2251! Too bad we couldn’t get funding this year.
    For those of you out there who don’t know, FIRST is quite possibly the most awesome thing in the history of mankind. The game seems pretty cool this year too.

    As far as MIT goes, good luck to everyone in regular action!

  25. Christine says:

    Ahhh, Dean Kamen’s house? That place sounds like heaven. An electronic shop?!

    Yay, FIRST! Go Team 692!

    @ _MIT_: the first team update got rid of the 6′ rule. Hooray!

  26. BronzyIan says:


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    Within half hour or so, I was able to get in touch with 10-15 girls within my locality.
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  27. BronzyIan says:


    While I was aimlessly browsing yesterday night, I came across a dating site, which had profiles
    from my country/state.
    I registered for free with them.

    Btw, the site was

    Within half hour or so, I was able to get in touch with 10-15 girls within my locality.
    I could not believe this.
    I got hooked with some of the pretiest girls, whom I would never dare to aproach directly.

    What I want to know is, how are the promoters of this site, able to provide service for free?

    I wouldnt mind paying for such a great site too.