FIRST Robotics Team 1717 builds a dream robot shop

FIRST Robotics Team 1717 started out like many robotics teams: without the proper facilities in which to work on their FIRST Robotics Competition robots; what they did differently than most teams was that they raised the money to build their dream workshop.


Like many teams, FIRST Robotics Team 1717 started out without the proper facilities in which to work on their FIRST Robotics Competition robots. 

     Also like most teams they did the best they could with what space was available while dreaming of what the ideal robotics facility would look like. What they did differently than most teams was that they raised the money to build their dream workshop. The $6 million dollar facility is now nearing completion and will be where learn-by-doing engineering education will be provided for about 400 high school students each year. See the latest construction pictures on the web at:

     FIRST Robotics Team 1717 and their robot

     As much as I am interested in the robot, its control mechanism, the shop facilities, and the strategy of the game, the purpose of it all is to educate kids in a better, fun way. The actual product here in this picture is the kids, what have they learned, and the skills they will take with them to use the next 60 some years. Will this learn-by-doing educational experience convince them that they want to become the Scientists, Technologists, Engineers, and Mathematicians that the USA needs to survive and prosper as a country? It certainly looks like FIRST Robotics competitions are having an effect. Kids at schools that have robotics teams are starting to diverge statistically from schools that do not. It appears that schools that have robotics teams are graduating a higher percentage of their students. A higher percentage of the graduates go on to college, a higher percentage of those going to college choose STEM careers and the numbers are getting better every year. This is the 20th year for the FIRST organization so they must be doing something right to have survived this long and these recent hard economic times. The number of teams is growing each year and the enthusiasm for Robotics as a high school sport is catching on.

     Not your everyday technical report

     A book has been written about FIRST Robotics Team 1717 and its remarkable 2009-2010 experience; The New Cool: A Visionary Teacher, His FIRST Robotics Team and the Ultimate Battle of Smarts, by Neal Bascomb, Copyright 2011 Crown Publishers, and there is some buzz about making it into a movie. Of course, in this age of information, it is already available in print, e-book, or audio book. Although I have just discovered the book, I have been able to read large sections of it and hope to finish reading it in the next few days. It is loaded with remarkable observations on teamwork, inspired leadership, what makes this next generation tick, and it will leave you with the feeling that there is hope for this next generation, provided that we do our part now. There was a time when almost every junior high school in the USA offered shop classes and high schools had automotive shops. Over the years, for a variety of reasons, those shops have all gone away, and the tools sold off. There is a growing understanding that every high school across the USA needs a robotics shop attached to it, to provide the build something learning experience needed to create the next generations of Scientists, Technologists, Engineers, and Mathematicians that are key to restoring prosperity to the USA.

     Greg Easterbrook, author of Sonic Boom and The Progress Paradox reviewing the book said that it is an “illuminating in its portrait of how the next generation will do its problem solving… If a space alien passing through the solar system stopped at a bookstore for some reading material before the next jump to hyperdrive, what he’d buy would be the New Cool by Neal Bascomb.”

     While the alien part might be a bit over the top, the reviewers enthusiasm for what the New Your Times bestselling author has written about the FIRST Robotics Competition teams is genuine. From what I have read of the book so far, it is and easy to read narration of what the author and his assistants observed while embedded with three FIRST Robotics Competition teams. They observed firsthand what it takes to become a winning team and bring the reader into the day to day action and the personalities involved. Everyone learned a lot, had fun, won prizes, and is inspiring the next generation to learn how to build things.

    Since the book closely parallels my experiences working with FIRST Robotics Team 3767 and is the detailed account of the challenges overcome by a technology startup I recommend this book as an inspiring addition to your professional reading shelf.

     ARE YOU INVOLVED in FIRST Robotics or in another mentoring engineering role? Leave a comment here! Want to leave a comment about this post but cannot see a comment area below? Click on this link: FIRST Robotics Team 1717 builds a dream robot shop and scroll down.

  Read other posts about this FIRST Robotics team in the AIMing for Automated Vehicles blog.


Paul F. Grayson - 4-H Leader

4-H Robotics Club of Traverse City

"Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math fun"

390 4-Mile Rd. S., Traverse City, MI 49696

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