FIRST RoboticsHave you heard of FIRST Robotics? It’s a high school level robotics competition where students are inspired to create a robot from scratch to compete in an arena. The robots contain the same sophisticated electronics as most industrial controls. They are built with precision-machined parts. They have complex mechanisms that require knowledge in physics and some level of engineering. Most of them are designed in SOLIDWORKS. (SOLIDWORKS is also a sponsor.) The teams have project deadlines. They secure funding and have budgets. They learn to program software in weeks. They have successes and failures. In other words, these kids are already doing what most of us are getting paid to do.

FIRST Robotics - In ActionI was asked to serve as a judge for a local competition recently. I had heard of FIRST from SOLIDWORKS World, and knew some kids that were involved, but I had never been to an event. It was an eye-opening experience. The super-charged energy of the kids was contagious. The emotions of the kids as they were recognized for their hard work proved that the creating something from the imagination is a desire deep within all of us.

FIRST RoboticsI interviewed nine kids for a prestigious award and it was not easy choosing just one. They all had something in common. They all had firsthand experience leading a manufacturing/engineering team. Through this process, they’ve had exposure to every step in the process from project management to interpersonal issues and from design concepts to manufactured parts. Several of the students learned SOLIDWORKS on their own and then taught others on the team. Many of them never raised their hand in class before, but now they’ve gained confidence and are able to give 30 minute presentations to large companies for sponsorship. For some of them, good grades did not come until after involvement on the team.

FIRST RoboticsFor me, this begs the question: why aren’t schools encouraging kids in engineering and manufacturing and instead cutting back programs like shop and technical education? I don’t know the answer to that, but I know of some ways you can help. Look for a team in your area and get involved. These teams are usually run by some faculty of the school on a volunteer basis or for little pay. Either way, they are not mechanical or electrical engineers, computer programmers, machinists, welders, designers, artists, project managers, or accountants. They need people like us to mentor these kids and answer questions. Even the least skilled of us could help by driving kids around. If you’re a business owner you can sponsor them by giving money, parts, tools, or machine time. I can assure you that a small investment in these teams will create the next best engineers in the world and someday they just might be working for you.

If you are involved with a FIRST competition, or any other STEM-based team, feel free to contact us about how Hawk Ridge Systems can help. You can also check out these resources from SOLIDWORKS for the FIRST Robotics Competition or apply for a SOLIDWORKS sponsorship.

If you’d like to contact us, give us a call at 877.266.4469 or email us at info@hawkridgesys.com.

Check out our Flickr for all of my photos of the event.

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