FIRST Robotics == totally wicked

Fair warning, this isn't really a note about healthcare -- except inasmuch as any conversation about innovation and technology in our culture impacts our capacity to actually improve health and wellness over the long term.

I took the day off today - this evening is the first tournament game for my son's new baseball team --- but during the day I am camped out here at Seattle's Key Arena, watching high school teams compete in qualifying rounds for Dean Kamen's FIRST Robotics competition.

Truth is, I've been feeling a bit worn down lately. We're making great progress with HealthVault and Amalga, but it is slow going. All too often, I find our industry paralyzed over silly things like certification and old conventional wisdom, when with just a little action we could do really great things quickly --- and improve them over time.

Anyways, with that context I made a really great choice coming here today. The optimistic atmosphere, the attitude and enthusiasm of the kids participating, the genius behind the design of the challenge, the crowd and venue that makes rock stars out of technologists --- it is incredibly energizing.

Each year the FIRST organization creates a sport to be played by a combination of robotic and human participants. This year the game is "Lunacy." Lunacy is played on a field (the "crater") about the size of a tennis court, with two competing alliances each made up of three teams - so six robots on the field at once. Each robot pulls a trailer, and the goal is for robots and humans to deposit "moon rocks" about the size of playground balls into the opposing teams' trailers. Robots can collect and deposit rocks themselves, and can also deliver them back to humans at the edges of the crater -the humans can then shoot baskets into opposing trailers from the sidelines. In the first twenty seconds of the game the robots run autonomously, and then for the rest of the game they are guided by remote control.

There's a lot more to it than that - but you get the idea. What is really special about FIRST is the way the events are run - this is the big time. The jumbo screens at the Key are all running, music is blasting, the teams have mascots and flags and crazy costumes, and the announcing is done like it's the Seattle Seahawks out there rather than a bunch of engineers.  They have filled a good third of the Key on this first day of qualifications, on a school day. I've seen teams not just from Washington, but New Hampshire, Florida, California, Montana, British Columbia and Istanbul. This is an environment that says --- science matters, this is how you make your mark on the world, and by the way it is really, really fun.

Right now it's lunch break, and from my seat I can see teams in the pits making last minute adjustments to their robots, a bunch of modified Roombas cleaning the "crater" floor, groups of kids hanging around recapping the morning, and jumbotrons cycling quotes from people like Thomas Edison, Esther Dyson, Albert Einstein, Alan Fromme and Dean Kamen. This is what America (often through our immigrants!) has to offer the world --- innovation.

I don't have a lot of patience for cultural or political luddites that blame technology and human advancement for our problems. Sure, we screw things up all the time - but we achieve incredible, amazing things as well. In order to survive and thrive in the world we have to keep innovating - and we can only do that by teaching our kids that science and technology matter. That using their brain to create new things and solve real problems is one of the greatest things a person can do. That we can protect and embrace the natural world without giving up on the idea that we can make the world even better. And most importantly, that our society needs to reward innovation and individual creativity.

What a great day --- and now, back to your regularly scheduled programming: stimulus, hipaa, cchit, ccr, ccd, blah blah blah.... :)