Editor's Note: Open Source Spirit Lives In The Next Generation
Mar 21, 2005, 23:30 (9 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Rob Reilly)
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By Rob Reilly
[Note from the Managing Editor: Rob Reilly, who did an
excellent job filling in for me while I was out on vacation,
submitted this article for his own Editor's Note. Here is his take
on another community, much like our own. -BKP]
To all of you super star programmers, high and mighty guru level
systems people, build anything with duct tape and bailing wire
engineers, and visionary marketing wizards... there's a monster on
the horizon that threatens to gobble up the high tech world,
possibly even Linux and open source.
But, you needn't worry your pretty little propeller-equipped
If anything, you should go and embrace the monster, because
after all, they are only a bunch of high school kids.
That's right... a bunch of high school robotics experts, to be
exact. The spirit of open source lives in a new generation.
I had a glimpse of the monster, last week at the FIRST Robotics
Competition, on the University of Central Florida (UCF) campus,
here in Orlando.
To quote the FIRST Robotics Competition web page:
"The FIRST Robotics Competition is an exciting, multinational
competition that teams professionals and young people to solve an
engineering design problem in an intense and competitive way. The
program is a life-changing, career-molding experience—and a
lot of fun."
I wish you could have been there. Any Linux Today reader would
have been grinning from ear to ear.
The enthusiasm was infectious. The technical focus intense. Team
spirit was rampant. Tools were spinning. Laptops were ubiquitous.
Cooperation and good sportsmanship were everywhere. And, it was all
The spirit of open source was there and you would have been
Similarities to today's open source world were striking...and
the kids were absolutely astounding.
I recall one 14-year-old team leader going into a detailed
explanation of how his team's robot software could navigate
autonomously around obstacles, while leaving just 63 bytes of
available memory space unused. It also logged and mapped its
movements to a PC over a wireless link. Sounds like some of the
open source gurus I've met.
The robots, which were all designed and built by the high
schoolers, in six weeks no less, were amazingly sophisticated. The
arrangement of servos, pneumatic pistons, gear trains, batteries,
motor controllers, microprocessor and welded aluminum parts were
Teams even had "equipment managers." These kids were responsible
for seeing that everything was ready, when the robots came back to
the pits for repairs or program tweaking. Tools were all clean and
in their assigned spots. Media handouts were neatly stacked. Past
competition slide show loops were running on team laptops. The
embodiment of version control and project management.
I received a rather stern look when I jokingly said a wrench was
out of place in a tool drawer. Yup, same seriousness, next
One young lady was the designated (probably volunteer) PR person
for her team. When queried about her career plans after high
school, without batting an eye, she said she wanted to be in
journalism. She simply loved to interview people... the smile and
poise at which she answered questions, proved as much.
Another similarity? You bet. I know quite a few women that write
about Linux and are technical experts, in their fields.
Virtually every team had sponsorships, as well. And, I'm not
talking one-man company sponsors. I'm talking big name vendors like
NASA, Disney, Snap-On Tools and Bosch. The children managed the
fund raising and several teams I talked to had budgets in the
neighborhood of $30K. Perhaps the open source community should
collaborate with some of these kids.
As if accomplishment and excellence were not enough,
participants are required to keep good grades, as per the rules.
Several adult advisers I talked to said that being on a robot team
actually brought up quite a few student's grades.
During a break for lunch, I even saw some of the teams wolfing
down pieces of 6 foot subs while chasing it with Coke. The
similarities just went on and on.
There you have it, my take on these monster kids that will be
taking over the high tech world, probably including Linux and open
source, in the next few years.
As I left the arena, I couldn't help notice the unassuming late
model station wagon packed with a rack of 1U computers, several
WiFi routers, batteries, inverters, servos and a ho st of antennas
on the top, prominently parked right in front.
It was UCF's new entry for the DARPA Grand Challenge robotic
There on a 19-inch monitor was a Linux desktop displaying the
motion of objects (people) picked up by the SICK sonar sensors, as
they passed in front of the vehicle.
And, as I walked by, I smiled, knowing that many of those
extraordinary kids would notice that Linux screen, too.