Meet the competitors
Who can tell us what it’s like to be part of a major robotics competition?
The FIRST® Robotics Competition brings together school students, university students and professional mentors from around the world. Here they share what it’s like to be part of a technology team, how they work together to build a great robot, and what it feels like to cheer each other on at the competition.
“It’s about more than just the robots. It’s about the fact that we’re a community and we’re all here together.”
Meet Charlotte and Vanessa from Abbotsleigh school’s Team ARTEMIS
Vanessa: “We’re in years nine and ten at school, and we’re part of a Rookie team, which means that we’re not as experienced as some of the other teams.”
Charlotte: “This is the first time I’ve built a robot!
“To prepare, we spent a few days brainstorming ideas and then we voted on them. We prototyped some of the ideas with wood and we spent the last three weeks building the final robot using metal and other materials.
“We spent most of our time preparing our robot to shoot a boulder into the low goal. We had three ideas for shooting the ball, but in the end we settled on a spinning rod.
“But we don’t focus our emphasis just on winning. We focus on team participation and team spirit, and self-improvement.”
Vanessa: “We also collaborate with other teams – yesterday one of the other teams’ wheels wasn’t working, so our team helped them fix it. The Barker team has taught us a lot about mechanics and given us great tips for building our robot.
“I want to have an IT-related career and robotics will help with that. I’m learning to code right now.”
Charlotte: “Career-wise, I want to do something astronomy related. I enjoy science and technology.”
Meet Ava and Sam from the University of Sydney’s Drop Bears team
Ava: “It’s been pretty intense over the past six weeks. First, we wanted a strategy. We wanted to know what our robot would be able to do, exactly how it would manoeuvre around the field and whether it would be flexible enough to change strategy if something unexpected happened.”
Sam: “We’re divided into sub-groups, which have captains. I’m second in command of software and the head of the drive team.”
Ava: “I’m team captain so I have to make sure that everything runs smoothly so we keep to our deadlines. We have sponsors so we also want to tell them what we’re doing and where their money is going.”
Sam: “We spent half our budget on swerve modules – on the type of wheels we use, which no-one else in this competition has. They allow for a full 360-degree driving range, so the robot can go any direction – similar to a shopping trolley, but easier to control.”
Ava: “A lot of people think coding’s really boring but it’s not. The places it can take you are really different. I’m considering STEM (Science, Technology, Enginnering and Maths) for my career. I think it’s really exciting but a lot of people are turning away from it now. If you look at the Higher School Certificate, so many people are dropping maths. But STEM subjects are actually some of the more important fields that we need people in.”
Meet Ryan from the University of Sydney’s Drop Bears team
“I was in last year’s competition and we’ve learned from our mistakes. Last year’s robot was a bit slapdash; this year’s robot is a lot more fine-tuned and can accomplish all the goals we set out to achieve. I’m really excited.”
“Our strategy is based on our high manoeuvrability. Because of our drive base we can go in any direction at any time so we can go around other robots rather than forcing our way through defences. And we collaborate with other teams.”
“I absolutely want a career in robotics. I’m a design student at high school so I do woodwork, metalwork and construction. I’ve always liked building things, but FIRST has opened that door even more. If I can get in, I’d like to go to Sydney Uni and study design engineering.”
“In 20 years, I think robots will look much cooler. And I want to make them look cooler.”
Meet Michelle from the Chicago Knights community team
“At first I didn’t know anything and I was really scared because I thought, ‘Robotics? How am I going to build a robot?!’ But when I got there, it became like my second home.”
“I started off working on the drive train so I got to learn about the different parts and how they operate. This season I’ve been working on programming, which is completely different. It’s not as hands on, but you control everything the robot does.”
“Our robot has personality. Her name is Eragon, after the dragon. We’re the Chicago Knights, so we have to slay our dragon. She performed really well this morning. We did go backwards during the autonomous part, but that’s just a little programming issue that we can fix. Eragon still moved and got over some defences. We showed off our team spirit, which is what we’re most proud of.”
“We really are a family. Everybody has a role. We don’t turn anybody away. It’s an amazing environment.”
Meet Monisha and Raj, mentors from India
Raj: “Our team is from a technology workshop in Mumbai. Some of our members actually won the FIRST Tech Challenge last year, here in Australia.”
Monisha: “It’s a high for the kids. To build things, the challenge, the problem-solving. To see something work, grow intellectually and develop team spirit.”
Raj: “I’m an engineer. I have my own business, but it’s out of interest that I mentor this team. For the kids, it’s a second home.”
Meet Eric, Howard, Luke and Joshua, competitors from Concordia Middle School in Taiwan
“The most difficult part is to pass defence. Our robot is very efficient. Other teams use normal wheels but we made our robot like a tank so it’s easy to climb.”
“Many people in Taiwan like robots, but they don’t create them and they don’t know there is a robotics competition.”
“We have seen a lot of new robot designs here so that will help us to make a better robot next time.”
Meet Professor Stephen Thurgate, who helped pioneer the competition when he was Executive Dean of Science at Macquarie University
“What you see in all the Rookie teams is an excitement that they can actually do things with technology, which they never considered they could. That message of empowerment is very strong and is spreading like wildfire.”
“When I was a kid, I knew the technology we had then back-to-front. I could fix everything. I knew how my motorcar worked, I knew how my radios worked, I could do everything. These days, kids have no idea, so they feel like technology has nothing to do with them. This competition breaks down that barrier. It teaches them that – while you need some discipline and you need to approach it the right way – technology is very accessible. It will do what you want it to do.”
“The kids are marvellous and their mentors are too. They’re often professionals in the field explaining how technology works to young people, which is a wonderful thing and helps you understand why it’s been so successful – because you have older people taking a real interest in what you’re doing.”
Meet Jackie Moore and her daughter, Monica, mentors for the Chicago Knights community team
Monica: “We have people from all sorts of backgrounds – private schools, public schools, selective schools, home-schooled students and students who have left school early. We’ve also had students that have gone back to school after joining our program.
We’ve had kids who didn’t believe they could do much of anything and now they’re ending up in engineering and technical majors. There’s something so satisfying about solving a problem and doing something with your hands – and learning that you can.”
Jackie: “We had one person who was a FIRST scholarship recipient and she went on to study mechanical engineering at a prestigious college in America. She’s graduated now as a mechanical engineer. What’s interesting is that she started out only interested in the performing arts. She attended a high school that didn’t encourage her and told her that she probably shouldn’t apply for that college; they wanted her to aim lower. But after she won the scholarship, the school looked into FIRST and started a FIRST Tech Challenge team. They now have a FIRST Robotics Challenge team as well.”
Author: Elise Roberts
Elise is a science, tech and business enthusiast, motivated to connect people with research that will propel their success. With over ten years’ experience working at the intersection of technology and communications across a wide range of industries, Elise enjoys jumping on the latest trends in digital media to share new knowledge with the Australian community.