Hixie's Natural Log

2006-04-30 07:04 UTC Late Spring 2006 Travelog: Part 3 (Robots)

Thursday, Friday and Saturday I was on the Newton field at the FIRST International Robotics Championships. It was a huge amount of fun.

On Friday evening, we attended the special guest dinner, where the staff of FIRST gave a presentation showing the history of the programme, from the first year all the way to 2006, highlighting key events. It brought me close to tears to see how much FIRST is affecting students' lives, and how students from all walks of life come together and participate together, working as a team to surmount the challenges they face.

This was also visible in the competitions themselves, with teams who had never before seen each other working together with amazing team spirit, and, dare I say it, gracious professionalism. Robots being used to save other robots, so that the whole alliance could score, instead of just each robot being a lone ranger, were a common sight. The cheering associated with such behaviour was a good indicator of how well everyone appreciated it, too.

I was also impressed by the large turnout: if these students represent the future of geekdom, then geekdom is going to get a healthy boost in the coming years. Even the traditional gender bias was being put to a test, with girls being well represented. When I was at school, you'd have never seen any of the girls there with a wrench fiddling with the internals of an engineering creation, or sitting in front of a laptop on the floor with a serial cable hooked up to the robot's microprocessor. I saw both of those this weekend. Teams also had huge support in the stands. It certainly seems, from the turnout at these competitions, that geekiness is getting cooler and more mainstream.

FIRST is, in my opinion, the single most important effort for increasing the size and diversity of geekdom today. I hope it can develop into an even more international organisation going forward.

I'm certainly looking forward to volunteering to take part in the project again in the future (this was my first year, and the championships were my second event).