robotics technology

In 1989, Dean Kamen started the FIRST Robotics program to inspire a generation of young people to pursue education and careers in science, robotics engineering, math and technology. The program’s acronym means “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.” He also hoped that students would leave the program as self-confident, dedicated and giving individuals. The charity is based in Manchester, New Hampshire but reaches more than 42,000 high school students in 40 regional competitions and spanning 42 countries from Germany, Chile and Brazil to Israel, Mexico and the Philippines. In addition to the well-known competitions, they’ve also provided more than $9 million in college scholarships.

FIRST Robotics founder Dean Kamen is an inventor, physicist, engineer and entrepreneur. He is perhaps best known for inventing the Segway Human Transporter, an environmentally friendly short distance travel solution. He’s also developed the HomeChoice portable dialysis machine (Baxter Healthcare) and the Independence IBOT 4000 mobile robot system (Johnson & Johnson). He’s currently working on a water purification system that promises to provide clean drinking water to 1.1 billion people around the world. For his efforts, he’s received the Heinz Award in Technology, the National Medal of Technology presented by President Clinton (2000) and the Lemelson-MIT Prize (2002), among others.

For 2009, the FIRST Robotics Competition will be called “Lunacy” to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our moon landing and will be held in Atlanta April 16-18. This year’s autonomous robots will be restricted by size and weight (no more than 5 ft tall, no wider than 38 inches, no deeper than 28 inches and no heavier than 150 lbs) and must be able to pick up orbit balls (2-point moon rocks, empty cells and 15-point super cells) and transfer them into a trailer hitched to their opponent’s robot in just two minutes and fifteen seconds. While 80-90% of the teams participating this year will be returning from previous years, there are 300 rookie teams joining as well. Of course, even given the charitable contributions, each team will likely need to come up with $9,000 – $10,000 to cover meals, transportation, lodging, food, robot parts and lab fees.

Research indicates that early exposure and hands-on involvement inspire young people to get involved in science and industrial robotics. The FIRST Robotics program hopes to plant the seed. Then it’s up to businesses and partnerships to water that seed and help these youngsters grow into brilliant visionaries. “One of the reasons we’re so successful at attracting and retaining engineers is because we keep them interested in more than just a paycheck,” said Darren Goodlin, manager of instrumentation for one of North America’s largest breweries. “We want our engineers to constantly challenge themselves and create an environment where they feel that they can sketch a new brewing or bottling process on the back of a napkin and transform it into reality.” With the right amount of sunlight, these students will grow into the next generation of engineers, scientists, physicists and inventors.

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