Among unsung open source collaboration efforts, the FIRST annual robotics competition deserves much more attention than it gets. Aimed at students, including young children, noted inventor of the Segway scooter Dean Kamen is behind the program, which challenges students to develop open source robotics software and components, with prizes for the winners. This program tends to fly mostly under the radar, but year after year it produces ever more interesting incentives for students.
David Strom has a notable report about his visit to a regional FIRST competition in St. Louis. He writes:
"FIRST has been around for 20 years, and if you haven't seen or participated, you might want to think about doing both. There are more than 2,000 teams from 60 countries....What I found interesting was seeing how groups of kids have to collaborate to work on fairly big projects in very limited time: they have to design, buy, build and market the necessary spare parts to build a robot in just a few weeks' time, then ship it off to St. Louis and try to make it work under extreme duress during the competitions."
From April 27 to 30th in St. Louis, anyone can visit the finals of the FIRST robotics competition. As noted here, pop star Will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas is a supporter of FIRST, and President Obama has stopped by FIRST competitions to encourage young roboticists. Kamen, too, participates in the competitions.
Over the past several years, open source robotics has hit a number of milestones. We rounded up several of the notable projects going on around the world in this post. The FIRST competition goes beyond just challenging kids to build open source robots, though. Over 146 colleges participate in the FIRST program, and one in three applications from young FIRST participants for college scholarship funds gets accepted.
This program does a lot of good, and introduces young people to open source collaboration. All FIRST competitions are free to attend. Check one out in your area.