FIRST Global Challenge 2017

Grand Challenge Theme: Provide Access to Clean Water

Access to clean, drinkable water has proven to be a potent source of political, economic, and social strife in nations throughout the world – the effects of which have been felt everywhere from Sub-Saharan Africa to the United States. At the present, more than one billion people do not have access to clean water and over half of them are children. This lack of access to drinkable water results in more deaths each year than those resulting from war. If current water consumption trends continue across the globe, two out of three people on earth will suffer from water-stressed conditions by the year 2025.

Water is not only an essential ingredient that helped lead to the development of life on Earth, but it comprises between 50 percent and 70 percent of the human body. Along with mild temperatures and breathable atmosphere, the continued ability of intelligent life on Earth to thrive depends on maintaining persistent and plentiful access to clean water.

“We can empty half of all the beds in all the hospitals in the world by just giving people clean water.” – Dean Kamen

Due to the importance of resolving this immense issue, the US National Academy of Engineering, UK Royal Academy of Engineering, and Chinese Academy of Engineering have deemed “providing access to clean water” to be one of their 14 “Grand Challenges for Engineering.” The Grand Challenges are engineering issues that must be addressed to ensure a healthy, sustainable, and increasing quality of life for billions of people across the world.

In recognition of the challenge’s importance and applicability to all nations, FIRST Global is taking this most universal of challenges – access to clean water – as the focus for the inaugural FIRST Global robotics game. FIRST Global teams from around the world will come together in a yearly robotics challenge and be inspired to pursue STEM education and careers.

This year’s robotics challenge will reflect how we need to cooperate as a global society to solve the water crisis. Teams representing over a hundred different countries will be organized into two competing alliances, each alliance composed of three national teams that rearrange into different alliances for each match. These alliances are tasked with accomplishing engineering tasks such as the storing of drinkable water, filtering of contaminated water, and procuring of new sources water.

Pollutants in the water will need to be separated, and clean water will need to be brought to each team’s reservoir within the allotted time. There will also be a group task at the end of each round where all teams will work together to accomplish a common goal. Therefore, FIRST Global competitors will need to design their robot to: (1) complete a variety of engineering tasks focused on “access to clean water”; and (2) best cooperate in international robot alliances that have a variety of skills to accomplish these tasks because alliance that cooperate the best will be most prepared to succeed.

Detailed information on game rules and other specifics will be released to the teams in tandem with robot kit deliveries in the first two weeks of March 2017.

Solving this global water issue will need much more than the best engineering minds of our era. It will require a whole new generation of tech savvy future STEM leaders who will demand a global response to the issue of water security. These students are doing much more than competing in a robotics game – they are learning that these challenges will only be overcome when people realize we are all on the same team, and that with technology, we can accomplish things we can only imagine by communicating, cooperating, and working together to apply technology as a tool for positive change in the world.


Photos courtesy of the United States Geological Survey