Disney Imagineers Excited for New FIRST Robotics Season

It’s an exciting time in Central Florida right now as students start heading back to school. For some, this also means the return to FIRST Robotics – a program we are very passionate about here at Walt Disney Imagineering. While some teams meet over the summer, back-to-school really kicks off the preseason for many, including mentors like me.

For those who may not know, FIRST Robotics is an international, project-based robotics competition for students in kindergarten to 12th grade. The varsity program, known as FIRST Robotics Competition, challenges teams to create large robots capable of playing a special game as part of regional competitions. Teams are also judged on creativity, engineering and teamwork for awards as additional recognition for their work.

The preseason is an exciting time – welcoming new students, preparing the shop, experimenting with new ideas, raising funds, and exploring the theme for the season. This year the theme is “FIRST in Show,” focusing on the impact of the arts and creativity. Creativity is at the core of what we do at Walt Disney Imagineering, which is why so many of us love serving as mentors for FIRST teams! Here’s a video with two of my fellow Imagineers – Senior Show Technical Production Manager Greg Johnson and Ride Engineering Studio Executive Mark Mesko – that helps explain why:

Dozens of Imagineers around the world mentor FIRST teams or are FIRST alumni. As a Disney VoluntEAR and mentor of 5816 Gra-V Robotics here in Central Florida, I cannot wait to see what they develop. Last year, the team had an outstanding season, trying new ideas with the robot and earning a spot at FIRST Championship with the FIRST Impact Award. Imagineers are incredibly proud of all the teams we work with, as you can probably tell from this new video with highlights from this past year:

Helping a team make it to the FIRST Championship is an incredible experience. Groups from around the world travel each spring to Houston, Texas, to compete, learn from one another, and build lifelong friendships. Here’s a look back at this past year’s event:

FIRST is sort of like a mini-Imagineering project. There are a ton of ideas – some work while others don’t. Teams rapidly iterate to make constant improvements, since they’re under time constraints and have to work collaboratively. And they’re incredibly passionate about what they’re creating! The “FIRST in Show” theme and this year’s game, “Crescendo,” is a direct connection to an incredible mix of art and engineering at Imagineering. I can’t wait to see what the teams dream up!

This is just one of the ways we’re supporting students as part of the Disney Future Storytellers initiative, helping them achieve their STEAM dreams and empowering the next generation of storytellers and innovators. We’re encouraging them to dream about their future, build their talents and skills, and become who they imagine they can be.

In fact, we recently joined our friends at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida to celebrate the grand opening of its new “Rock Star Robotics Center” at the Walt Disney World Clubhouse. This new space was named by students and built with the help of a $500,000 Disney Grant, offering students the chance to grow their skills as a FIRST Robotics team with some of the latest technology at their fingertips. For more on FIRST, be sure to check out firstinspires.org.