I just watched some of the stream and smiled at the fact that the competition is very similar to my first year. There were many unique robots that had different ways to quickly balance on the bridge. We learned it wasn't really about the ability to balance, but how fast you could do it. Since its the last thing your robot will do in the round you usually have seconds to dash to it and balance it.
Part of FIRST's value lies in its ability to get anyone involved in a team and get them excited about technology. There were non-technical students who joined my high school's FRC team (Team 3652) and helped by leading our fundraising and media projects. They learned plenty of business and life skills. But best of all, when the robot scored for the first time, they were just as excited as the rest of us.
It was also easy to get overlooked. I got into the website niche and ended up spending the entire build season mostly working on Photoshop. I knew next to nothing about our actual robot. Unsurprisingly, I was bored at competitions.
I had originally joined because I thought I wanted to be an engineer, but I got sidetracked by web design. I realized this after my freshman year, but was kicked off the team, since we had to conduct interviews every year. The advisors saw that I didn't enjoy the competitions and figured my spot would be better used by someone else. So I never actually learned anything about engineering in a year of FIRST. No one ever pulled me into it and I lost my first and only chance to do it myself.
I often look back at that event as a pivotal one, since the absence of FIRST led to my interest in the arts, politics, etc. Had I spent the whole fours years working on the actual robot, I might have go onto engineering schools, or programming, or all sorts of things completely removed from the liberal arts environment I'm in now.
But that's all speculation. I still wish I would have learned more programming while I was in it.
I had FIRST on my resume through college, and that work was always the top question for interviewers. It was easy to give a really passionate response, and since rarely had they heard of it, I'd get a chance to explain how the program works and exactly what our team did. I just wish that it was more widespread, not very many schools have FIRST teams. We were able to gain some school-wide attention for our team as well, and it grew significantly after my senior year. If FIRST was a 'sport' at schools across the country, we'd be in much better shape for the next generation of engineers and scientists.
If you have the chance to join a FIRST team (as a student), you absolutely must take the opportunity--it'll pay huge dividends.
(I was on team 195, I'm now an engineer at Microsoft.)
This is the 20th season of competition. One of the things Dean is promoting this year is building and using a network of FIRST alumni.
Microsoft donated a Kinect for each team. It will be interesting to see how many teams use them and how. UPDATE: they just said that teams can use the Kinect sensor to control the robot in what's normally fully autonomous time. So there's a big incentive for teams to use them.
My father has been mentoring the local FRC team; the basketball game is right up their alley. They'll probably be able to hit the baskets from any distance! Should be very exciting.