In mid-April, we held our semi-annual Visionaries’ meeting in Atlanta where we witnessed the preliminary day of the FIRST robotics championship. Our goal was to wrap our minds around our next-gen customers and employees and to absorb some creative energy from these bright kids. But our visit exceeded my expectations. By spending time to understand the structure of the design of this very successful program to inspire kids to engage in science, technology, engineering, and math, I think we discovered some principles that could be transferred into our corporate environments to make innovation a more repeatable and systemic activity.
Thunderchickens Competing in the Final Round
Photo by Akill11, Flickr
Team 217, “ThunderChickens” of Utica Community Schools from Sterling Heights, Michigan, maneuver their winning robot, which would eventually reign victorious as part of the 2008 FIRST Robotics Championship winning alliance.
Some of the key take-aways:
• Make sure that people are working on intellectually HARD problems.
• Have them work in teams on the same problem.
• Give them incentives to share and cooperate with other teams.
• Build in real-world, real-time feedback and lots of iterations.
Here’s a link to the full report and pictures from the event.
A Team Controls Its Robot via Remote Control
Photo by Akill11, Flickr
Team 868’s robot from Carmel High School in Indiana in the midst of the challenge. The robot is successfully herding a 40 inch. ball around the track. Its next feat will be to lift the ball 6 feet in the air and throw it over the overpass and then collect it again.
There are several points that I didn’t mention in the write-up. One aspect that
may not have come across is the amount of value that kids and their
parents receive from participating in the FIRST programs. For example, there were over $10 million worth of college scholarships available to FIRST participants in 2008. The kids who engage in this program are highly valued by universities and employers!
Fire-Breathing Rubber Duckies’ FLL Team
Photo by Jonathan Clark
This was one of our favorite FIRST LEGO League teams—called the Fire-Breathing Rubber Duckies; it was one of many girls’ robotics’ teams competing this year.
Another theme is the increased involvement of girls and young women in the program. Every year, the ratio gets better. Last year, when I attended, there were several mixed gender teams and only a couple of all girl teams. This year, there were more all girl teams and more mixed gender teams. The younger the teams, the more young women there were. That’s mostly because FIRST has been making a conscious effort to engage young women. I was most impressed by the participation of one all-women’s team of young Muslim women who wore their head scarves but otherwise were indistinguishable from the rest of the smart young people who were competing, cooperating, and marketing themselves.