It’s been two decades since inventor Dean Kamen founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), and three years later, 28 teams in a New Hampshire high-school gym competed for the organization’s first robotics championship.
Having been lucky enough to cover both regional competitions and the national FIRST Robotics Championship back in 2002, I remember how easy it was to get completely wrapped up in the sheer enthusiasm and energy and teamwork and gut-clutching tension and overwhelming creativity and drive at these things. I also remember how difficult it was explaining all that to most people, who kind of raised their eyebrows and went, “Really? It’s just kids playing with robots, right?”
Now, of course, I could just point them to Gearing Up, an hour-long documentary following four very different teams through part of the 2008 season. You’ve got the veterans – a Pennsylvania team named Miss Daisy; the all-girl rookie Robodoves from Baltimore; Rambotics, a group of incarcerated teens from Colorado, and the suburban Missouri kids who call themselves the Ratchet Rockers.
Gearing Up began airing in various markets in mid-September – here’s a full viewing schedule arranged by region – but it’s also out on DVD this week, presented and distributed by American Public Television.
If it even captures a fraction of the fun and excitement I remember, it should still be great viewing, no safety goggles required.