Back With A Vengeance: Virtual Return of FRC Robotics

When we all look back on the year 2020, the first thing we’ll think about is something negative and tragic, like the COVID-19 pandemic or the loss of live music. However, there’s still something to be hopeful about, especially if you’re a robotics nerd like me!

FIRST (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics is an organization that was founded to inspire and educate young people about the merits of science and technology. This organization started in 1989 by Dean Kamen, and has now grown to have almost 700,000  members, over 50,000 robots, over 300,000 mentors and volunteers, and almost 80,000 teams. This organization has created different levels of challenges for all these teams. The highest level is the FIRST Robotics Competition, which is only available for high schoolers.

Every year, the season, which starts in January, is characterized by a short, intense build season of 6 weeks. Teams have to build a large robot that satisfies most of the objectives for the season’s challenge, which also gets revealed when the season starts. Afterwards, teams prepare for tournaments, which are held from as early as February to the end of April. These tournaments are done over a span of two days, and they feature teams from all over the world. The winning teams go to the worlds-level competitions, which are held in Houston and Detroit (based on ease of traveling).

This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the season Infinite Recharge was canceled. However, in September, FIRST unveiled a plan for the new season. According to the official FRC website, there are three new opportunities for all registered teams.

The first opportunity is the Game Design Challenge. The Game Design Challenge involves creating an actual game which has real, virtual, or a combination of both elements. This challenge gives an insight into the behind-the-scenes work in designing these competitions. The best concepts will be considered for future challenges.

The second opportunity is the Innovation Challenge (presented by Qualcomm – FIRST’s sponsor). This challenge is closer to programs like Shark Tank; here, teams will identify a real-world problem based on this season’s theme, FIRST Game Changers (powered by Star Wars: Forces for Change). Teams create business models and pitch them to other teams to earn awards. The final level of this competition is the Global Innovation Awards, where teams show what they’ve got by competing for awards, participate in lots of different workshops, and get mentored by experts.

The third opportunity is Infinite Recharge at home. This opportunity is a virtual competition with two parts. In the first part, teams can participate in a skills challenge based on the Infinite Recharge game. In the second part, teams can simply share information with judges about their robots’ technical abilities.

Apart from these new features, which honestly bring a whole new experience to the FRC experience, there are still some constants. All the traditional awards like the Chairman’s Award and Dean’s List are still eligible for teams for this season.

Hope this was an informative breakdown of what FRC people like me will experience this coming season! Good luck to all teams participating, and here’s to more fun and memories!

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