Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Event Finals

FIRST's goal is to be the sporting event of the mind.  The vision is to make doing this so cool that kids will equate it with the kind of reverence as March Madness for College Basketball.  That is the reason for the loud rock music, the impressive guest speakers, the huge venues and the cheering crowds.  When do nerds get that kind of respect?

This event was moved to Detroit and the biggest crowds ever came the five days - over 40,000 people watching and there were deafening cheers and rock concert music.  Then the finals were moved to the NFL stadium.  Only a few members of the team and coach were shipped over in limos and our equipment loaded onto semis in a huge coordinated move during a five hour break.  It was no break for us.

Never thought this would happen.  
While the event awards were happening in the main venue, our partner got that field of theirs back to the venue as the practice fields had been removed while we were doing the eliminations.  Our teams were chosen because they were like us - and took our lead.  Never, ever ever think you are ready.  Work to the last second.  There is always a screw that can be tightened, a motor that can be checked, a test that can be done.  The kids are totally in control and we just sit back and enjoy watching this extreme display of the will to win.  Now think of this - the parents have run back and loaded up a 200 piece field from the top floor of a hotel and gotten it to a major convention center and reset it up in about 30 minutes.  OMG.  And the kids used it for about an hour to reprogram their autonomous programs to work in concert together better as well as surprise changes that a team might not know (defense, etc).

When we got to the stadium - we immediately noted that the static problem was epic.  We couldn't cross the competition area without seeing arcs.  It was a result of the dry air and the covering on the astroturf - no way to ground anything.  So immediately all the teams were playing with the sparks - but on our side, we knew the entire shoot out was going to hinge on this.  Our friends Gluten Free were the captains of the other side and one of their partners was our partner at Worlds last year.  They were super formidable and my son, as the captain, decided our mindset was the underdog and we had to fix the static problem.  The lead up to the finals was a few hours and the finals took soooo long with 45 minute breaks between matches as rock stars sang, luminaries talked (GM's CEO was there as well as head of the Air Force), Obama beamed in a message and T-shirt cannons were used to pump up the crowd.  Our kids didn't let a minute waste.

There is a robot there inside all those bodies working
feverishly - making sure no metal can accept a shock
If they weren't off in a corner discussing every concept to game strategy and legal defense moves at different points in the match (you will never see the moves we see in the video where our team steals blocks out of the mouth of the competition and backs into their path to cost them seconds - all of that was planned) then David and Rob were inspecting their partners robots with them and covering any exposed metal and protecting the wiring even more.  We had chosen them both because they had demonstrated not only great performance but humility and a willingness to collaborate.  I can't say that our friends on the other side were as focused as a three team group.

Woodie Flowers MIT Emeritus and former
PBS host - cofounder of FIRST
The stadium filled up and I was amazed at the poise and focus of my team.  I mean their faces were on no less than 7 jumbo trons - two half the height of the stadium.  I loved those pictures - never did I ever think my two boys would play on a NFL field and be on the jumbo tron for tens of thousand screaming fans.  When it was over - they let out the confetti.  Magical.

When you watch the video - know that in the last match it became obvious to our friends Gluten Free that they couldn't catch up and so with about seven seconds left, they mounted the final position and put down their controllers, ceding the match.  If you look close in the bottom of the frame - the captain stuck his thumb out saying to our side - you got this, congratulations.  What a humble and gracious move.  We were so sorry they had to loose for us to win, those boys are a class act.  We are rooting for them this year.

Two world champions, the runner up all around award winner
and two other MA teams - many of these kids went to
schools together and have moved on to college together
And to ice the cake - our Lincoln, MA friends - the ones who were huggers... they won the runner up all around award for the World.  What a thing.  The three teams got the three highest awards at the same time.  (And the Boston Globe refused to publish a story - just shows how there is such a bias against smart kids and for high school sports still).

The captains of our two partners - well they discovered in the summer that they were both attending Georgia Tech and they decided to room together!!  And our captains?  Well - they are in London right now together at the same international semester abroad for Northeastern.  They will come back to Boston in a week to join the other two Brainstormers at Northeastern.  Two others are rooming together at University of Massachusetts Lowell and the rest are at Tufts with kid who made the documentary.  In London are several other World's teams FTC kids.  I have told the kids for years - be humble, be nice, be helpful and be honest.  You will know these people in your careers for a very long time as the engineering world is small.  One told me recently he now understands why I always said that.

The focus of the kids for every last minute was incredible.  My son's last
pep talk just before they took the last match.

It came home to a few of them while we were in Detroit.  One wanted to visit UofM as he was a junior and another was trying to get off the wait list.  So I arranged a tour of the vast project team facility.  It is super impressive and houses the formula one team, hyperloop team, solar car team and many others.  We were being given the tour and had our team shirts on.  As we rounded one corner a student there stopped and said "oh my God - you are The Brainstormers!, we are rooting for you this week!".  We were stunned.  He said lots of them had been in FIRST over the years and had watched us at competition and were keeping up with our videos over the season and had planned on coming to the finals - hoping we would get to them.  As we left, I reminded the guys - reputation matters.

This competition is so much more than learning to program and build a robot.  As one parent said to me a few years ago - "it's everything school should be".

Below are two videos - the final match (one of the announcers used to live in Lexington a decade ago) and the summary video by FIRST released to the media gives you a feeling of the competition that takes over an entire city for a week.  If you have kids or grandkids, think about taking them to see it sometime or a local event.  Maybe they will be inspired to try it.  And yea, my kids are in it.

Pictures often say it all.  Now Pick Up Your Controllers Teams

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