Woodie Flowers thinks the best use of a robot is to get teens excited about engineering. Since its inception in 1992, he has advised inventor Dean Kamen’s FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition, a league for students who design robots that race through obstacle courses. By Erik Sofge
PM: How do FIRST robots today compare with those in the early competitions?
WF: When I started, it was paper clips and rubber bands. Now it’s super-powerful processors and rapid prototyping.
PM: Kamen has always said that FIRST events should be televised.
WF: If our goal is to get on television, I’m out. If our goal is for more people to know about FIRST and be positive about it, I’m in. Right now, television on the whole represents many things that I don’t respect.
PM: How have robots changed the lives of participants?
WF: The really interesting stories have to do with the people: the kids from New York City who built their robot out of plywood and qualified for the nationals; gang members who became students because of FIRST. The robots are a wonderful and demanding project that makes all of that happen.