How the Sport of FIRST is More Than Robots

Mar 18, 2022 By Chris Moore, Chief Executive Officer, FIRST





Our global robotics community is the subject of the original documentary “More Than Robots,” directed by Gillian Jacobs and produced by Supper Club, now streaming on Disney+. I had the honor of attending the movie’s premiere at the prestigious SXSW Film Festival this week. There, members of the FIRST community joined those from film and technology to celebrate a documentary that spotlights the best of humanity: the young people who build a better future for us all.

I have attended other film premiers and documentaries over the course of my career, but none more inspiring or uplifting than “More Than Robots.” Typically, what I’d take away from a movie screening is pure entertainment value. Was I entertained or moved by the film? However, after watching “More Than Robots,” I walked away not only entertained, but also feeling a deeper connection to our FIRST community, including the power of coaches and mentors to inspire their students through our programs.

"More Than Robots” reaffirms for me the fact that FIRST is more than a robotics or STEM organization. Rather, we truly are in the business of changing lives and teaching young people valuable social, emotional learning (SEL) abilities that allow them to manage their emotions and understand that, despite unforeseen challenges, they have the power to overcome any barrier or “curve ball” that life throws their way. So, while it must have been devastating to these students to have had their robotics seasons cut short by a once-in-a-century pandemic, rather than focusing on their pain or sense of loss, they empathetically pivoted to how they could use the skills they acquired from FIRST to be of greater service to others and support their communities. I was awestruck. When “More than Robots” was over, I could not have been more proud to be part of the FIRST community.

Build Robots, Build Community

The documentary’s title borrows a phrase that FIRST has been using for years: More Than RobotsSM.

It captures the excitement, heart, and hope of the unique, transformative FIRST experience through the stories of four FIRST® Robotics Competition teams competing in the 2020 season – a season that started off in typical FIRST style. After we had unveiled an exciting new robotics challenge, young people worked side-by-side with their peers and mentors for weeks to custom build a complex robot and polish off their award presentations, and then cheering supporters packed into events to watch hard-working robotics teams engaging in friendly Coopertition®.


SXSW More than Robots
Featured in “More Than Robots,” FIRST Robotics Competition Team 6904 “TeraWatts” mentor Fatima Iqbal-Zubair (right) and students work on the team’s robot in Los Angeles, California.


Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, all remaining competitions were canceled, and our young people did what we have been preparing them to do, under the guise of “building robots” all these years. They used their STEM skills, their leadership skills, and their grit and perseverance and passion to be proactive to help their communities, designing robots to deliver groceries and dispense hand sanitizer, creating 3-D printed face shields and ear savers for masks, creating online communities and podcasts to bring people together, and much more.

As I hadn’t yet joined FIRST in 2020, watching this moment on screen particularly moved me – seeing the way our amazing young people stepped up to meet the needs of their communities. It’s no surprise this moment is resonating with film critics too (especially those who, like me, can’t resist a great sports movie). As Kimberley Jones from the Austin Chronicle put it:

“"Did the montage of these STEM dynamos turning their talents to home-manufacturing PPE and no-contact temperature-taking stations just about break me? Yes. But what a sweet coda. More Than Robots’ raison d'être may be the uplift of science and engineering, but there’s a worthy civics lesson to be had there too." ”

The Sport That’s Way More Than Robots

When Dean Kamen founded FIRST, he set out to build a culture where scientists and engineers are as celebrated as athletes are to inspire generations of young people to dream big about what they could accomplish with their STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills. As he’ll tell you, creating FIRST was never about the robots. It was about creating a sport where every kid could go pro:

  • A sport that combines teamwork and the excitement of competition with hands-on STEM skill development and a culture of inclusivity and community.
  • A sport that demonstrates the value of Gracious Professionalism®, as coined by Dean’s early collaborator and FIRST Distinguished Advisor, the late Dr. Woodie Flowers.
  • A sport that gives kids direct access to professionals and role models who they can not only see themselves in, but also who are in careers that offer real opportunity – delivered a fun, collaborative, coaching environment where they learn how to how to fail safely, empathize with others, communicate, innovate.
  • A sport where every kid can participate and play a meaningful role – from programming the robot to designing the team logo to fundraising and pitching sponsors to teaching younger peers. This dynamic environment has helped us build an inclusive community that celebrates how STEM is for everyone.

Together, those elements work to make FIRST and our global community truly More Than Robots.

If you’re just learning about the FIRST movement, I hope you’ll join us in inspiring the next generation of young people. Here are just a few ways you can get involved: start a team, become a mentor or coach, volunteer at an event, or become a sponsor or donor.

Special thanks to FIRST Strategic Partner Disney and Lucasfilm, director Gillian Jacobs, and production company Supper Club for shining a spotlight on our mission. And to all our teams around the world, thank you. Your actions inspire me every day. I hope you have a chance to see the documentary (here are a few fun ideas for watching with your FIRST friends). “More Than Robots” is a celebration of you.


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