Sep 13, 2011

FTC, the robotics program showcased by will.i.am to promote science and technology on network TV, launches a new season

FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an organization founded by inventor Dean Kamen to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology, officially launched its 2011/2012 FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC®) season with an online Kickoff event unveiling this year’s game, BOWLED OVER!™

The FIRST Tech Challenge, a widely-accessible high-school robotics program that promotes project-based learning, was recently featured on the groundbreaking ABC-TV Special, “I.am.FIRST: Science is Rock and Roll,” hosted by Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am. Easily adapted to fit various venues, FTC is a highly scalable program that easily integrates into the classroom with measurable results. FIRST teams learn to engage business, engineering and science professionals, and working together, become a focal point of the community.

“This year’s competition is all about persistence,” said will.i.am. “Last year, I entered FTC as Rookie, and as a Rookie, I competed against the grand master, Dean Kamen, and we won. We won because we were persistent. That’s the mode. That’s the vibe. We’ve got to change America by making science the coolest thing on the planet.”

More than 21,000 high-school-aged students are expected to participate in this year’s competition. The object of the game will be to design and build robots robust enough to push a bowling ball uphill, yet sophisticated enough to pick up racquetballs and place them into crates, and stack the crates to score points. The final 30 seconds of the driver-controlled period is called the end game, where each Alliance, consisting of two opposing teams is challenged to push their bowling ball into their “home zones” to score additional bonus points.

“Perseverance goes hand in hand with innovation,” said Dean Kamen, FIRST founder and President of DEKA Research & Development Corporation. “A fundamental aspect of FTC is learning how setbacks and revisions can actually contribute to bringing about success. The physical challenges of this year’s FTC game, BOWLED OVER!™, reinforce the importance of adapting to situational changes in order to ultimately achieve success.”

Research conducted by Brandeis University has shown that the FTC program delivers powerful and tangible results in motivating students to do better in school, learning more about science and technology, and increasing consideration of careers in STEM. More than 78 percent of participants in the program believe their desire to do better in school is a direct result of their participation in FTC. Interest in majoring in math and science and pursuing those fields has risen nearly 84 percent with the program. FTC is also unlocking an awareness of how math and science can be used in the real world, with more than 90 percent strongly citing their participation in FTC for sparking an interest in math and science.1

“FTC has experienced phenomenal growth over the last five years, while developing life skills that include teamwork, cooperation, and professionalism,” said Ken Johnson, Director of FIRST Tech Challenge. “FTC continues to grow because it makes science and engineering fun, using competition as a way to show off and celebrate students’ achievements.”

Using a combination of motors, controllers, wireless communications, metal gears, and sensors, including infrared tracking (IR) and magnet sensing, students program their robots to operate in both autonomous and driver-controlled modes on a field that includes platforms and ramps, and both protected and unprotected zones. BOWLED OVER!TM matches will last two minutes and 30 seconds. They begin with a 30-second autonomous period followed by a two-minute driver-controlled period. The final 30 seconds of the driver-controlled period is the “end game” where teams can only make contact with their own bowling ball in an efforts to score it at the top of their ramp.

During the 2011/2012 FTC season, an estimated 2,100 FIRST Tech Challenge teams will compete in events in the U.S., Canada, China, India, Mexico, and the Netherlands, culminating at the FIRST Championship, April 25-28, 2012, at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Mo. This season, FTC is also piloting programs in Romania, Singapore, and New Zealand. The 2011 FIRST Tech Challenge Sponsors include Official Program Sponsor for the FIRST Tech Challenge, Rockwell Collins, and FTC CAD and Collaboration Sponsor, PTC®.