Ready for launch: Boeing employees inspire the next generation of engineers

April 09, 2019 in Community, Technology

On July 20, 1969, two Americans became the first humans to land on the moon.

Along with countless others who watched that historic moment, FIRST Robotics founder Dean Kamen was inspired to pursue a career in science. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, and Kamen wanted to create a FIRST competition challenge to honor that milestone.

FIRST is a nonprofit organization with the goal of getting students excited and engaged in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — better known as STEM. Each year FIRST creates a game field, and students must design and build a robot to complete various challenges on the course.

For help designing this year’s space-themed game field, Kamen enlisted the help of Boeing engineers.

“The future of space is being built right now,” said Tony Castilleja, a systems engineer on Boeing Human Spaceflight programs who helped design this year’s course. “We wanted to create a STEM competition that teaches students about autonomy — robots driving themselves. This is work we are doing every day at Boeing, so it’s a very real-world scenario for FIRST students.”

For this year’s competition, called “Destination: Deep Space,” the students are challenged to design and build a robot that can load cargo into rockets and a cargo bay. In the first few seconds of the competition, they’re in a “sandstorm,” so they can’t see to manually control the robot — that’s the autonomy part.

“The terminology of hatch, cargo and technicalities of launch are introduced and intertwined in the language students use in FIRST, so it’s relatable,” Castilleja said.

Teams collect points for each task their robots successfully complete on the game course — like securing hatches and loading cargo. Teams with the most points advance, and top teams will eventually compete in one of two championships in April.

Helping students master the course are more than 500 Boeing employee mentors — the highest number ever.

“Mentoring is incredibly rewarding,” said Spring Beasley, director of customer engineering and mentor to an all-girls team in Seattle. “At the beginning of the season, we have people who come in and say, ‘I don't know if I can do this.’ And by two weeks in, they are grabbing tools and figuring out what they can do, and trying things out — it's incredible.”

Beasley’s team, Reign Robotics, is preparing to compete in the final round of competition before the FIRST Championship. Watch the video to see her team’s journey over the past few months.

“I learn as much from these kids as they learn from me — probably a lot more,” Beasley said. “I’m so optimistic for these kids’ futures.”

This story is the second in a series about Boeing’s partnership with FIRST Robotics and Reign Robotics’ journey to championship. Click the related link to read the first story.