FIRST Robotics Competition Inspires STEM Education

Funded in part by Edison International, the multi-state regional event had more than 72 teams competing.

AMC’s hit show “Breaking Bad” may no longer be airing new episodes, but “Breaking Bad” still showed up at the 2015 FIRST (For Inspiration of Science & Technology) Robotics West Super Regionals competition recently in Oakland.

“Breaking Bad” is the name of the robot built by the Charging Champions team. The six-member group is comprised of middle and high school students from various schools in Irvine.  

“It was like our creation coming to life,” said team member Anish Neervannan about the three-day competition. “What I enjoyed most about the competition was building and programming the robot, and seeing all of the robot's components come to life on the playing field.”

The Charging Champions was one of more than 4,000 international teams that recently competed in the FIRST Tech Challenge. The competition for students in grades 7-12 helps to engage them in STEM (science, technology, engineering or math).

The idea is to design, build and program robots based on sound engineering principles. Awards are given for the competition as well as for community outreach, design and other real-world accomplishments.

Charging Champions coach Raj Neervannan formed the team with school and family friends. It was a way for the parents and kids to bond beyond just sports or other school activities.

“Building robots seemed like a fun way to do that,” he said. “In this process, we have been able to share the real world skills with our kids, such as raising funds, connecting with our community and instilling values of team work and accountability.”

Edison International was a sponsor of the FIRST Robotics competitions and FIRST Tech Challenge through the initiative “Get Into Energy, Get Into STEM.” Supported by the Edison Electric Institute through 11 electric companies, the initiative is managed by the Center for Energy Workforce Development.

The funding covered registration for more than 180 new FIRST Tech teams. Of these teams, the Charging Champions was the only team in Southern California Edison’s service territory to advance to the 2015 West Super Regionals. SCE provided an additional $1,000 toward the Charging Champions’ travel costs and upgrades to their robot.

But at the end of the three-day competition, this “Breaking Bad” was not meant to be. The Charging Champions did not advance to the world championships, but the team gained some valuable life experiences.

“Being on the Charging Champions has taught me a lot about teamwork, what it means to work together to build a system and solve problems,” said Anish. “We didn’t win, but next year we’ll come back stronger.”