Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Movie on FIRST Robotics Proves That 'If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It'

A decade ago, WIRED magazine ran a story about four high school students from a tumbledown high school in Phoenix, Ariz., beating MIT in a sophisticated and nationally watched underwater robotics competition. 

The article, La Vida Robot, told the riveting true story about how those four students from Carl Hayden High School—three of them undocumented immigrants from Mexico—defied incredible odds in a 2004 FIRST contest. Using the combined force of $800, old car parts and their own irrepressible ingenuity, the ragtag team of high schoolers claimed victory over a litany of highly funded university teams. 

Readers moved by the indomitable spirit of those four students—Lorenzo Santillan, Luis Aranda, Oscar Vazquez and Crisitan Arcega—donated $90,000 to further their education after learning that their immigration status prevented them from qualifying for federal loans.

The story had legs.

In 2014, a documentary about those four students, titled Underwater Dreams, hit theaters. Narrated by Michael Peña and directed by Mary Mazzio, the film chronicled the incredible true story about the cadre of students struggled against poverty and circumstance to captivate a country in a stunning upset.

It showed how a pair of computer science teachers decided, on a whim, to enter their underperforming, poverty stricken high school into the NASA funded FIRST competition. Only those four boys put their names in the running. But once the team was formed, they conspired to win. calling up oceanic engineers and military scientists for design help. Unable to afford glass syntactic flotation foam, they resorted to PVC pipe from Home Depot, duct tape and, in a last-minute pinch, even a tampon.

At first, their only goal for the contest was to not come in dead last. Instead, as we all know now, they won. In winning, however, they each launched a personal journey to inspire a new generation of young people to pursue science and engineering, to solve problems and elevate their lives beyond even the more dire circumstances. 

Now, the saga has gone Hollywood. In January, Spare Parts hit the big screen, dramatizing the story of the underdog robotics team.

As longtime supporters of FIRST Robotics, it has been incredible to see their story shared with a national audience. Their story is one of many, as FIRST has inspired hundreds of thousands of kids  over the past 25 years to try their hand at robot-building. Among their ranks are more inspiring stories—stories of triumph over defeat, of discovered purpose and changed lives. 

To learn about the teams we're sponsoring this year, check out out previous blog post. 

In the meantime, here's a link to the WIRED magazine article by Joshua Davis that started it all. Here's a link to the documentary. The Spare Parts trailer is posted below. Heads up, though, it's a tear-jerker.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Raising the Profile of Scientists and Engineers Through FIRST Robotics

"The average kid on the street can tell you the names of a dozen football players or basketball players or Hollywood stars. None of them can tell you the name of any famous living scientist or engineer."
—Dean Kamen, inventor, in an interview with CBS News

Right now, we're in the thick of competition season for FIRST Robotics. Some 400,000 kids in more than 80 countries are duking it out in a series of bouts with robots they designed and built themselves. It's all in good fun—intensely competitive and widely watched.
But the primary goal of the robotic sporting spectacle is about something more transformative than thrill of victory. Dean Kamen, the renowned inventor who established FIRST 25 years ago, says the long-running nonprofit promotes a cause near and dear to his heart. And the stakes are high.
"FIRST is all about changing our culture ... for the better," he told CMS Wire earlier this year. "More than 25 years ago, I saw a culture where celebrities and athletes were celebrated and revered, and scientists and engineers were not. I believed then and still believe not that our collective future depends on getting more kids from every background interested and turned onto science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), so that they might seek education and careers in these fields."
We couldn't agree more. 
It's about motivating students to understand, use and enjoy technology through project-based learning.
It's about propelling the next generation of scientists and engineers. 
It's about raising the profile of today's scientists and engineers. 
It's also about legacy, Kamen adds, a way of perpetuating his love of inventing to young people around the world. Kamen, an autodidact who holds more than 400 U.S. and foreign patents, is credited with saving thousands of lives with his healthcare inventions, among a myriad others.

FRC Team 4019Bridges Academy - Studio City, CA
Because to invent, ultimately, is to give—something he elaborates on in a TED talk you can watch here
It's a message that resonates strongly with us as a manufacturer of guided motion solutions. That's why we proudly support FIRST by donating large quantities of DualVee linear guide track for teams to use in building their robots. We also sponsor several local teams. This season, those teams are:
  • FRC Team 1458—Red Tie Robotics, Monte Vista High School in Danville, CA
  • FRC Team 3470—The Patriots, Heritage High School in Brentwood, CA
  • FRC Team 4019—Bridges Academy, Studio City, CA
  • FRC Team 692—The Fembots, St. Francis High School, Sacramento, CA

To learn more about our FIRST sponsorships, including how your team can become a sponsee, click here