Every time I tell a friend that the kids are building a robot and will compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), I see a look in their face which is curious and intriguing. However, most people are not familiar with the concept of building a robot for middle school children and the FTC competition. That’s why I felt that it would be a good idea to explain what it is and what it is not.

It’s way more than building robots. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a nonprofit that provides young people the opportunity to explore technology including but not limited to engineering, videography, computer programming, and business applications. FIRST empowers young people to present their knowledge and to give back to their communities by educating others about STEM.

FTC is a competition sponsored by the FIRST organization and the teams (up to 15 team members, grades 7-12) are challenged to design, build, program, and operate robots to compete in a head-to-head challenge in an alliance format. Participants call it “the hardest fun you’ll ever have!” Guided by adult Coaches and Mentors, students develop STEM skills and practice engineering principles (like keeping an engineering notebook) while realizing the value of hard work, innovation, and sharing ideas. The robot kit is reusable from year-to-year and can be programmed using a variety of languages, including Java. Teams also must raise funds, design, and market their team brand, and do community outreach for which they can win awards. Participants have access to tens of millions of dollars in college scholarships. Each season concludes with regional championship events and an exciting FIRST Championship.

Java the Hutts (JTH) started with five middle school kids from Lee County. Most of the kids competed in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) challenge tour in Southwest Florida (SWFL) in recent years. This competition brought them together as a team and encouraged their curiosity in problem-solving. Earlier this year Southwest Florida Regional Technology Partnership (SWFRTP) sponsored the FIRST presentation. This exposed the kids to robotics in general and the FIRST competition specifically. Subsequently, the kids and their parents got together and decided to form the JTH team and start building the robots.

Initial team members were Ishaan, Cayden, and Nick. Subsequently, Max and Aum joined the group. All of them are very bright and smart kids who have an inherent curiosity to learn new things using technology and science while having fun as a team. The goal of the team is multi-dimensional. The team is in a mission to develop a robot that can perform a certain level of tasks during FTC competition. JTH will work with other similar groups to develop future innovators, technology leaders, and creative problem solvers. This process of building robots will encourage curiosity, critical thinking and problem solving using STEM.

On a higher level, the team’s mission is to increase awareness of robotic science in SWFL and encourage other school-age children to get motivated and be part of the technology revolution that is going on currently in the world. The team will work with others to develop an echo system in SWFL where curiosity, creative thinking and problem-solving is being taught and learned and utilized every day.

We seek support and encouragement from everyone who believes in our mission. We encourage all business and nonprofits groups to be part of JTH. Please contact us if you would like to be part of this exciting journey!