Where are the technicians of tomorrow going to come from? Look no further than robotics, says two industry veterans. Ron Callis, CEO of OneFirefly, and David Kaplan, CEO of Custom Business Solutions, credit inventor Dean Kamen for breeding the robotics culture among kids who just might become the much-needed future workforce for the custom electronics industry.
Kamen, the inventor of the self-balancing human transporter Segway, is being inducted into the Consumer Technology Association’s (CTA) Hall of Fame in November in the “Innovator/Technologist” category (along with Ray Kurzweil of Google). Kamen is an inventor, entrepreneur and tireless advocate for science and technology and holds more than 440 U.S. and foreign patents, but it is his work with kids and robotics that might save the custom electronics industry.
“He is a modern-day Thomas Edison,” says Callis, “But we feel Kamen’s greatest achievement occurred in 1989 when he founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an organization dedicated to motivating the next generation to understand, use and enjoy science and technology. FIRST is one of the best methods for training up new talent within the A/V and automation industry. We encourage our industry to better support and embrace this organization.”
Callis flatly says, “Dean Kamen is responsible for the organization that is building our workforce of tomorrow. This workforce must be technically literate, comfortable with solving problems and using the tools of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) to advance their careers all while practicing gracious professionalism. We want the next generation to be able to work together and solve the many difficult problems both our industry and our society will require. We believe FIRST is one of the best programs in the world to help make this happen.”
FIRST engages kids in kindergarten through high school in exciting, mentor-based, research and robotics programs that help them become science and technology leaders, as well as well-rounded contributors to society.
Kamen keynoted the 2012 CEDIA Expo, where he passionately implored the CEDIA community to get involved as a mentor with the FIRST robotics program.
“I listened and acted immediately. Ultimately, I was paired up with an interested teacher from McArthur High School in Hollywood, Fla., and the rest is history,” says Callis.
He took Kamen’s advice to heart and founded a robotics team in 2013 called The Mighty Mechanical Mustangs (Team 4592).
“I have acted as a mentor, fundraiser and coach to the kids from this Title 1 school, where many of the kids come from lower income households. These students are 30 of the 460,000 students that participated in FIRST in 2017, and I was one of the 230,000 mentors, coaches, judges and volunteers from 85 countries that make up the FIRST family. I donate hundreds of hours every year to this program and can say with confidence that outside of spending time with my family it is the most fulfilling activity in my life.”
Kaplan was first introduced to Kamen and FIRST at the 2012 CEA Industry Forum, Kamen was advocating for the consumer electronics industry to become more involved as mentors and sponsors.
“I’ll admit that I had no idea who he was prior to his speech as I clearly was living under a rock. When I returned home and spoke to my family, I realized that my 9th grade daughter had weeks ealier joined her school’s FIRST robotics club. I had not connected the dots until that moment and did not realize until years later the profound impact this decision would have on our lives.
“My daughter had four successful years on her robotics team, rising to the role of captain her senior year. Impressively, her team, Ballard High School Vikings Robotics (Team 2928) went on to win the World Championships this past year in Houston. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy acting as a mentor to the team and a proud parent to the leader my daughter became, I was able to witness first-hand the impact the FIRST program has on children’s lives,” says Kaplan.
“Thanks to Dean Kamen and FIRST Robotics, my daughter, now a college sophomore, is on a full tuition scholarship at Illinois Tech. I could not be more proud of her and our industry for recognizing Dean Kamen with this prestigious honor,” he notes.