The holiday season is behind us, but opportunities for good deeds continue with the FIRST Robotics Program’s LED light bulb sale.  Since many of our Digital Lumens team members have robotics backgrounds, and because we’re totally behind LEDs as an essential tool in reducing the world’s energy usage, we think this program deserves a shoutout. It’s the perfect combination of supporting a great program with an important and relevant purchase.

If you already know about FIRST, I’m delighted. If you don’t, here’s a quick overview. Started in 1992 by Dean Kamen, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is ‘an organization dedicated to motivating the next generation to understand, use, and enjoy science and technology.’ The program’s goal is to inspire young people to ‘be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.’  A worthy goal and one that the program is meeting every day, with 250,000 participants worldwide.

There are programs for all different ages, starting with Lego-based challenges for younger kids, up through more complex challenges for high-school participants. For the 9th to 12th grade teams who participate in the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), each receives a kit of materials to build a robot optimized to achieve a specific set of tasks. The teams then compete at the local and regional levels, with those winners moving onto the championship in St. Louis. Teams come from all over the world – not just the U.S. – to compete. Worth noting is that the competitions are structured so that gracious professionalism is strongly encouraged to promote cooperation and support of other teams. FIRST has coined a term for this they call ‘coopertition.’ And let me just say that if you think that a robotics competition is boring or dull, think again. Check out video clips from last year’s FIRST Championship here. The energy, cooperation, enthusiasm, team spirit and community support are positively amazing!

As with most activities, there are some expenses involved, which the teams need to defray, such as travel, supplies to build their robots, community programs, etc., necessitating team fundraising. Clever kids come up with clever fundraising ideas – such as selling parts they design to other teams, or holding concerts, or rating local companies on Angie’s List, or selling items they collect in the community on eBay. And FIRST has created another opportunity for the teams — the sale of LED light bulbs. Girl Scouts sell cookies. Boy Scouts sell popcorn. FIRST teams sell energy-efficient light bulbs – teaching them about sales and marketing, while helping them raise funds for their team. The teams are selling 40-Watt equivalent LED replacement bulbs, which run at 8 Watts, and 60-Watt equivalents, which run at 13.5 Watts (both versions are dimmable to 5%).

As part of the LED program, the FIRST teams receive training material about how LEDs work, and all of the benefits of LED lamps vs. other sources. What better way to educate the public about the benefits of LED lighting then to use FIRST teams who are into science and technology and love to learn about new things? FIRST teams also are required to give back to the local community, which this program facilitates with educational outreach about the value of adopting LEDs. The teams have been very excited because the program is both good for the environment, while supporting their participation in a highly educational program. And the program is doing very well!

In the first 6 months, approximately 50,000 lamps were sold, and this year the program has expanded the offerings. If you’d like to learn more about the FIRST, the LED program, or find a team in your region you’d like to support, follow the links below:

As someone who is deeply committed to helping the next generation of students embrace science in its many forms, I am a huge supporter of FIRST and devote a large portion of my volunteer time to it. I hope you’ll take the time to learn more about the program, consider LED bulbs for your home and office environments, and consider spreading the word about FIRST and maybe even getting involved.

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