By Lynn Fitzpatrick
(Washington, D.C., July 18, 2017) Inspirational, aspirational, international and energized are some of the English words that describe the FIRST Global Challenge taking place at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. Early this week, 162 national and continental teams are playing an international robotics game addressing the global challenge of providing access to clean water.
Entering DAR Constitution Hall is like being swept through a portal into a corridor swarming with excited teenagers. Hormones and a variety of diet and hygiene protocols combine giving the corridors a distinct locker room odor that only adult visitors notice. The contestants’ running around, giggling, and frenetic behavior is not because a teen idol or internationally renowned politician has been spotted in the crowd, it’s about the excitement of being their country’s ambassadors to a global engineering competition. For many, the experience represents the first time they have left their country, the first time they are in the United States, and the first time they are meeting so many kids with similar interests from all over the world.
A floor to ceiling national flag identifies each team’s workstation. Tools, jackets, bags, and lunch boxes are piled here and there around their tables. More often than not a couple of team members dressed in jeans and a T-shirt are working on their robots, taking selfies to share the experience with friends and family back home, and enjoying visits from players from other countries.
The FIRST Global Challenge invites friendship, camaraderie, and cooperation. This year’s robotics challenge addresses the global challenge of access to clean, drinkable water – the effects of which are being felt and addressed worldwide as more than an eighth of the world’s population does not have access to clean drinking water.
Each game is played by two alliances of three international teams and the robots they have assembled from kits. The competing alliances, Hydro and Aqua, are tasked with transforming a polluted river into a clean water source while storing as much water as possible. As the teams prepare for the end of the game, they have to get out of the path of the flooding river by seeking higher ground on the playing field’s bridge or by suspending their robot from the gridiron at either side of the playing field. The playing field is about the size of a boxing ring. Blue balls represent healthy water and the pollutants are red balls.
While each team received the same building kit of wheels, cogs, nuts, bolts and circuitry, no two robots are alike. Some are particularly good at gathering, others at sorting on the uptake, and still others at ascending the bridge and delivering water to the storage tanks. It was wonderful to see the alliance partners recognize their teammates’ strengths immediately, get on with the task at hand, and play to win. All the while the playing field and its river were being cleaned giving improved conditions for both sides. It was also nice to see so many girls participating.
Moving forward, Integrity Team USA hopes to promote similar competitions that advance our collective knowledge and expose our youth to all of the possibilities as the next generation works to solve 21st century issues, especially those related to our precious resource – water.