Does it get more cool than this (robotically speaking)? A formation of quadricoptors playing the James Bond theme. Congratulations to the folks at the University of Pennsylvania who came up with this.
Here’s something fun and different. During my visit to Chicago recently for the FIRST Robotics Competition Midwest Regional, I took along the Canon Powershot G9 and my shiny new Gorillapod Focus. The G9 can shoot timelapse video so I would attach it to various railings in the stadium and shoot the competition or crowd or pits or whatever. I’ve cut together some of this video now and you can see the result below.
I first tried this a couple of years ago at the San Diego Regional and you can find that video here. That one is encoded as an interlaced MPEG-1 file, though, so it doesn’t look as good as the new video which is 480p instead.
I’ve just uploaded my photos from the FIRST Robotics Competition New York City Regional. You can find them on SmugMug here. The images are set up for at-cost printing and 1 cent downloads (since SmugMug requires me to set some price before enabling the service). These are free for personal use and for activities promoting FIRST (school newspapers, posters, team publicity, TV, etc). No commercial use is permitted.
I think it’s pretty fair to assume that most readers of this blog can list a line of relatives, teachers, mentors, pastors, coaches and others who guided and inspired us, ultimately leading us into our careers as engineers, scientists, technologists, administrators, salespeople, marketers, designers, artists and any number of other jobs.
As a child growing up in the 70s and going through college in the 80s, I remember being in awe of the engineers and astronauts at NASA during the final years of the Apollo program and throughout the development and launch of the Space Shuttle. As a Brit, though, with little prospect of working for the US space agency, local technologists soon joined the list – Sir Clive Sinclair and the engineers at Sinclair Research who developed home computers that I could actually afford and later the team at Acorn Micro who laid the foundations of the company that is a household name today and whose microprocessors are at the heart of every TI Stellaris MCU – ARM. Closer to home, my High School science and mathematics teachers showed me the beauty and, despite society’s attempts to suggest otherwise, fun of physics, chemistry, geometry, trigonometry and calculus.
So why a post about inspiration today? I’ve just returned from a trip to the FIRST Robotics Competition New York City Regional where I was supporting TI’s Jaguar motor speed controllers. This event pitted teams from as far afield as Hawaii, Brazil and the UK against one another in a competition to design and build a robot intended to collect and place various inflatable game pieces. You can read more about this year’s game here but the most important thing to realize about FRC and the FIRST organization in general is that robots are merely a catalyst. The real name of the game is inspiration – getting the next generation passionate about science and technology and steering them towards the careers which will develop tomorrow’s technologies and drive tomorrow’s economy.
Each team requires many skills to complete the game challenge. In addition to the obvious hardware and software tasks, experts in sales, marketing and design are needed for publicity and fundraising, and administration skills are in great demand when trying to arrange transport and accommodation for teams of up to 40 people who may have to travel across the state, across the country or even across the ocean to attend their chosen FRC event. For each of these activities, the team relies on an army of mentors to advise and assist. Teachers, parents and professionals give up a significant portion of their free time to help team members come to grips with the new skills required and, at the same time, teach them a real-world lesson in how to break down and handle a complex task in a team setting. This is the kind of experience that schools are, frankly, just not set up to provide and it’s also exactly the kind of experience that gives kids who take part in FIRST programs an advantage in the job market.
As professionals ourselves, FIRST and programs like it offer us outstanding opportunities to give back to the community, inspiring tomorrow’s professionals and helping prepare them to follow in our footsteps. Remember, too, that inspiration goes both ways – the energy, enthusiasm and creativity of the kids on the team definitely revitalizes the mentors too. If you have some time on your hands and a desire to get involved in something that really makes a difference in the lives of young people, take a look at FIRST and see how you can fit in to help a truly inspirational organization.
If you have read this blog for any length of time, you will know that I highly approve of Dean Kamen’s FIRST organisation. This weekend sees the kick-off for the 2010 FRC competition and the start of the 6 week design and build period leading up to regional competitions in March and April. If you can make it to any of the events, I would encourage you to go along and see just how cool they are. Talking of cool, they even managed to get Neo to do a PSA spot for them this year…
Edit: A more knowledgeable colleague just pointed out that the Keanu PSA was actually prepared for last year’s competition. That answers my question about why it doesn’t contain any footage from the 2009 competition. Oh well…
I spent 4 days in San Diego a week ago at another FIRST Robotics Competition. This event was smaller than the previous one I attended in Cleveland and I was even less busy with official Luminary Micro support work so I had a lot more time to watch the matches.
During this time, I played with my Powershot G9. I had found out the previous week that it was capable of shooting time lapse video (yes, I had read the manual but I guess I forgot this since I reckoned it was another totally useless feature) so I shot some of the matches and the crowd reaction in 24x and cut it together into a little video on Vimeo. I also uploaded this to Flickr as an experiment now that they support video in addition to stills.
I really think this makes a rather effective intro to the competition and gives some impression of the excitement of the event. If you want a less frenetic version, I’ve created a set of my favourite FRC images on Flickr too.
FIRST Robotics Competition, San Diego from Dave Wilson on Vimeo.