Starting younger can be the perfect opportunity for children to get some hands-on experience and explore the skills necessary to build and program robots when it comes to entering the world of robotics. The FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) is a competition that focuses on primarily high school age students interested in learning and applying STEM and robotics skills.
For more information on the program, we've compiled everything you need to know about FTC robotics in one handy guide.
What Is FIRST Tech Challenge?
The FTC robotics is a team based STEM and engineering event geared towards children in grades seven through twelve. Teams operate in groups of ten or more and work to design, build, and program robots from scratch. The completed robots them compete in a head-to-head style challenge incorporating an alliance format.
Since the participating students are responsible for all stages of working on their robots, the FTC robotics program allows them to develop STEM skills and engineering principles in a hands-on format while under the supervision of coaches and mentors. The team format also encourages cooperation and sharing of ideas to achieve success through building and programming.
In addition to robotics skills, FTC incorporates several other aspects. Students can also work to raise funds for the program while designing and marketing their team brand. Community outreach is another emphasized aspect of the program, and all additional elements are eligible for program rewards.
Winning teams have access to millions of dollars in college scholarships. If successful in the initial stages of the competition, teams can proceed to the Super-Regional and FIRST Championship tournaments to win even further prizes.
What Sort of Impact Does FTC Robotics Have on Participants?
The FIRST Tech Challenge works to not only bolster STEM and robotics skills but also has a positive impact on other educational aspects. Most participating students have an interest in performing well in school, attending college, and many hope to pursue careers in STEM-related fields.
The team structure allows students to develop leadership and disagreement solving skills, both of which can have a positive impact on self-confidence. Participants also have the opportunity to see how math and science applications in real-world problems, as well as develop skills for solving unexpected issues in the work process. The alliance structure also encourages cooperation with new people.
Because students can receive scholarship money, many participants have the chance to further advance their education after graduating from high school. As students compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge over the course of several years if so inclined, the positive impact can increase and spread as experienced students help new team members enter the competition and develop their skills.
What Do FTC Teams Need?
Aside from initial student team members, all FTC teams will need at least two adult mentors to help through the building and competition seasons. Other adults can also help with additional processes, like administration, fundraising, and community outreach.
Outside of supervision, teams should also have a working location that can host all the participates at one time. The work area should also have enough space for the completed robot, which will be roughly the size of a microwave with the complete FIRST robot kit available to FTC participants. Total budget and fundraising plans are also necessary to get the most out of the event.
When Does FTC Happen?
FTC happens throughout the year, with different stages taken when the timeline indicates. Registration often starts in May, where teams start to form. That leaves several months of open signs ups and the season kick-off in September, where the FIRST season game comes to light.
Once the season begins, teams can enter the design and build stage, which lasts through January. However, this season overlaps with tournament season, which often starts in October. These tournaments continue through April as teams advance through the state, regional, and super-regional tournaments to earn a place in the FIRST championship in April.
In addition to the main series events, FTC teams can also participate in other off-season and unofficial events to further build their work and engage with other FTC students.
What Time Commitment Do FTC Participants Need to Have?
During the build and competition season, it's best for participants to meet at least once a week during the build and competition seasons. This commitment applies to both team members and their mentors and adult volunteers to work with them.
However, there is no set limit or requirement for how much time that the participants put in. The more time that students put into developing their FTC projects, the more they will be able to build their skills and prepare. Many veteran teams continue to meet outside of this timeframe to enhance their robots.
What Skills Do FTC Participants Need?
FIRST Tech Challenge members need a variety of skills to participate, and the team skills help everyone draw out their strengths. However, part of the point of FTC is to help students develop their abilities even further, regardless of whether they have previous experience in working in STEM and robotics before.
Some vital skills that FIRST encourages are electronics, programming, metalworking, web creation, graphic design, videography, and public speaking. Students can both build their existing and new skills while participating in FTC.
What Kinds of Resources Does FTC Provide Participants?
The FTC robotics challenge works to provide participants with all the tools and resources for participation, to foster the best skill levels in their participants possible. These resources include both materials and tools for building the robot, as well as educational information so that students can learn to program in full capacity for their robots.
The provided resources of the FTC robots are compatible with three different programming languages, including App Inventor and Java. FTC gives participants easily accessible online learning resources for students to learn the skills they need to program their robots for the competition fully. These lessons include Hardware control, programming with App Inventor, and Android Studio.
These resources are part of the regular participation for all FTC robotics teams, new and veteran alike.
When Did FIRST Get Its Start?
The first FIRST-based competition started in 1991. The original event had twenty-eight total teams participating in New Hampshire. Since then, the game has grown into the multiple stage, nation-wide event that it currently is today. Approximately 400,000 children participate in FIRST events annually, including FTC robotics.
How Does FTC Robotics Compare to the FRC Challenge?
The FTC robotics challenge is only one of the events hosted by FIRST. FTC is one of the more advanced programs aimed at older children approaching and in high school. FTC also focuses on designing, building, and programming a robot, with additional events for further awards. The teams focus around ten members, and the average cost for a group can range between $1000 and $2500.
The FIRST Robotics Competition is a more involved event geared for much larger teams between ten and thirty members. Teams can focus on one of the participating areas to specialize in:
While FIRST encourages rookie teams to choose one competition area to specialize in, veteran teams can divide their resources between all possible categories. Depending on what events a FIRST Robotics Competition team participates in, they will need a substantially larger budget to work with, with $15000 for starting rookie teams and potentially up to $50000 for veteran teams participating in all events.
How Does FTC Robotics Compare to the FLL Challenge?
While the FIRST Robotics Competition is a more advanced version of the FIRST Tech Challenge, the FIRST Lego League and FIRST Lego League Jr. are competitions meant for younger members. The standard FLL is open for up to ten members between grades four and eight, while FLL Jr. is a program for children between the ages of six and ten.
In FLL Jr., children work with STEM concepts by using Lego building blocks. This program helps by introducing STEM strategies through an accessible and familiar medium suited for the age group. The resulting impact allows children to have a foundation for STEM concepts that they can build on as they grow older and continue their education.
The standard FLL rests between the development levels of FLL Jr. and FTC. In FLL, children work with science concepts to help develop solutions for problems like food safety, energy, recycling, and other relevant programs. This program also includes a robotics potion that involves design, building, and programming concepts to prepare for a table-top playing field.
The distinction between the robotics portions for FLL and FTC is primarily in the building processes. The FLL incorporates Lego MINDSTORMS building kits, while the FTC goes into full robotics operation. FTC members must work with more complex metalworking, welding, and programming skills to complete their projects.
Overall, FTC robotics helps students to build their skills further and get hands-on experience in the world of design and building while developing STEM and other ability for high school age students.