Of all the push towards STEM activities among young students, FIRST is likely one of the best programs to succeed in engaging youth in science and engineering. Founded as a nonprofit organization, FIRST not only gives students the opportunity to build and design functional robots for yearly competitions, but every so often gives them the chance to do beta testing on real products. Most recently the all-girls team Parity Bits from Lexington High School was selected to beta test a new Java-based Android platform for the FIRST Technical Challenge, or FTC.
FTC competitors, consisting of grades 7-12, will experience large benefits to the new handheld communication and control system platform, which will be used for robot and driver-station controls. Powered by Snapdragon 410 processors from Qualcomm Technologies, teams will have a higher processing speed and advanced sensors already built into phones and tablets from snapdragon. As the platform is Java-based, students will not only be exposed to the power of handheld devices and sensors, but also to Java programming.
Matt Grob, CTO of Qualcomm Technologies, commented on other benefits the new platform holds for students:
"FTC teams will now be able to tap into the amazing capabilities of Snapdragon devices as the heart of their control system. We believe this has the potential to inspire students to become future generations of scientists, engineers, and inventors, in part by getting them to realize that the device they routinely hold in the palm of their hands can lead them to greater knowledge, new horizons, and eventually meaningful careers."
Several high school girls from team Parity Bits were among the first to test this new platform and experience what it's like to face a technology where all the bugs are not completely worked through. Emily Nadler, a member of Parity Bits, commented on the experience of beta-testing the platform with her team's FTC robot:
"Like all beta-testings, there were a lot of bugs that we had to work out. On the mechanical side, the structural integrity of the 3D printed parts that we were given was not optimal (but will not be a problem for teams in the future), cables had to be tested and swapped out, etc. The process can be best described as fun, but sometimes frustrating. FIRST and their affiliates were great about listening to our comments and concerns, and we were able to completely transition our robot, as well as work out bugs in a few short weeks."
Another member of Parity Bits, Lingrui Zhong, plans to head into the Computer Science field. This beta testing experience, as she explains below, not only developed her skill in the programming realm but also reinforced her decision to pursue computer science.
"Through this experience I gained more insight on what it is like to beta-test a software product, to debug an incomplete system, provide feedback, and communicate with the developers. It solidifies my programming skill and gives me more learning experience before going into Computer Science field."