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FIRST Robotics

Standing up a global remote event hub to keep an annual robotics competition going during the COVID-19 pandemic.


The COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible for FIRST to host its annual robotics competition, affecting thousands of high-schoolers. But the organization wanted to find a way to hold the event remotely.


Creating a multilingual remote event hub to host the FIRST Robotics Competition in a virtual environment that would be led by the coaches for teams of students across the world. 


ADK enabled FIRST to hold the robotics competition remotely during the pandemic with a virtual platform that also will support many aspects of the more traditional in-person event moving forward.

The Challenge

100,000s of students could not compete in FIRST competitions due to COVD lockdowns in 2020. 

Each year, the FIRST Robotics Competition attracts teams of high school students who build industrial-size robots and pit them against each other in a difficult field game.  This unique combination of sports, science and technology is one of the premier events of its kind in the country. 

For many of the participating teens, this unique event is sometimes one of the only extracurricular activities they are involved with. It is one of the best ways for them to build confidence, join a community, and learn leadership.

In 2020, the FIRST Robotics flagship event and all of the joy it brings to participants was in jeopardy. More than 100,000 kids were facing the strong possibility that the event would not take place at all since the COVID-19 pandemic made the in-person event impossible. Funding for the event was already secured through LEGO Education. 

During a time when everyone needed to stay home, the students more than ever needed the STEM-focused social interactions that the FIRST Robotics competition provided. With their entire competition on the line, FIRST trusted ADK to come up with a solution to hold the robotics event virtually. 

But how do you create a digital, remote experience that captures the essence of the real thing? And how do you support the volunteers that work tirelessly to coordinate it?

The Solution

ADK created a remote event hub, enabling coaches to facilitate the competition, scoring, and awards online with student teams from around the world.

ADK had just a few short months to architect a solution before the Fall 2020 competition. Features were prioritized by impact to ensure that the first iteration would greatly improve the experience right out of the gate on a few key qualitative measures. 

First, ADK reimagined how the event is administered, with an eye on advantages gained through digitalization. The original event included manual components like scheduling, scoring field games and updating leaderboards as teams advanced. For the online experience, these elements were automated, recording results for the entire event that participants could easily view throughout the competition.

For ADK, the focus was creating an online experience that would not only provide a remote environment for the competition during COVID-19, but that would enhance the event when it returned in-person.

Because competition participants were all high school students, data protection and privacy were critical for the online experience. The platform’s global reach also required strict compliance with data privacy laws in other countries, such as Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation. 

The Impact

The remote event hub enabled FIRST to hold its annual robotics competition remotely during a global pandemic, and provides features that will support the in-person event in the future. 

Although the look and feel of the 2020 event changed drastically, it was a huge success. Students across the world participated by constructing their robots, recording their performance, and submitting the videos for the judges to score. Complete with virtual awards ceremonies following the matches, the platform provided a way to bring the students together for a memorable experience during a time when everyone was being kept apart.

An added benefit of our work with FIRST is the digitization of competition elements that will enhance and streamline the event once it returns in-person. Manual processes can now be automated and leveraged during live events to make competition schedules, team scoring, and the leaderboard available online to all participants throughout the competition and once it has concluded.