Sensors Mag

First Things FIRST: Kids, Robots, and Sensors

March 9, 2006 By: Barbara G. Goode, Sensors

"I believe it is very important for the next generation of scientists and engineers to become exposed to the world of feedback and associated sensor technologies," said Charlie Jost, a longtime reader of Sensors who retired this month from his post at U.S. FIRST. FIRST lives up to its acronym name (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) and these days has a goal to teach the kids the value of sensors and sensor knowledge.

Engineering Is Cool!

Founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, U.S. FIRST is a multinational nonprofit organization that aspires to transform culture and encourage kids to perceive science, math, engineering, and technology as "cool." That is, as cool as they perceive sports or music today. FIRST operates the FIRST Robotics Competition in which teams of high school students, sponsored and assisted by local companies and volunteers, design, assemble, and test a robot capable of performing a specified task in competition with other teams. FIRST also runs the FIRST LEGO League, for children aged 9-14.

FIRST says that the key to its success is the work of more than 25,000 volunteer mentors, professional engineers, teachers, and other adults working with students across the country. In addition, more than 14,000 event and committee volunteers organize and staff the FIRST competitions and other events. Through these volunteers, FIRST programs engaged 70,000+ young people last year.

More Sensors, Please!

But perhaps equally important is corporate support—in this case, donations of sensors and instruction on how to implement them. FIRST wants to put together a group of sensor vendors to push this effort. As the principal person at FIRST responsible for the various technologies incorporated into the parts kit given to each FIRST Robotics Competition team, Charlie Jost's objective was for the teams of kids to incorporate more sensor technologies in their robots. And now, Kate Pilotte ( is carrying that banner.

Even as you read this, teams of students are busy building their robots in preparation for the FIRST World Festival in Atlanta in late April. With that done, the FIRST organizers will start working toward next year, and we at Sensors will be helping the organization to achieve its sensor goal.

In Our Own Interests

I talked recently with National Instruments VP Ray Almgren, whose company supports FIRST in a major way with donations (more than $500,000 per year) and guidance (Ray is on FIRST's executive advisory board, for instance). Ray told me that while NI cannot quantify the benefit of its support of FIRST, the company believes it is important for the long-term benefit of the company.

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