Designing, building and testing a 125-pound robot for competition requires planning, dedication, teamwork and a strong leader. One of those leaders is U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Matthew Brauer, who not only started a FIRST Robotics team at his high school when he was a senior, but also coached the team several years later. Brauer is an interdisciplinary mathematician at DEVCOM Armaments Center.
“It was the best feeling to go back to my old high school and work with the students to make sure they have a great experience. The team grew from seven students when I started as a senior in high school, to 20-25 students,” Brauer said.
FIRST Robotics is a team-based program for children 4-18 years old that encourages interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics through hands-on learning. The program also fosters self-confidence, communication and leadership.
Brauer became the assistant coach for the FIRST Robotics team at his high school alma mater in 2018, and then transitioned to a mentorship role in 2022.
“One of the most important lessons the children learn in FIRST Robotics is that it is ok to fail. In fact, they will fail often and fast. Sometimes, they have a great idea on paper, but it doesn’t always work out when they build the prototype,” Brauer said.
The challenge for the FIRST Robotics Competition is released in January each year, and the students have between six and eight weeks to design, build, program and test their robot. Each FIRST Robotics team has 10 or more high school-aged students and two mentors who have technical and non-technical expertise.
Brauer notes that there are typically two groups of students who participate in FIRST Robotics: students who are strong in math and science, and students who want to try something new. He works closely with schools to encourage team enrollment of students who are involved in other programs, including Future Business Leaders of America, website design, photography and videography. Students interested in videography, for example, help make promotional videos that are sent to sponsors.
“One of the great things about the FIRST Robotics program is that it isn’t geared solely to students with strong math and science skills. You can teach anyone what they need to know to build a robot,” Brauer said.
Brauer knows that the skills he acquired on the FIRST Robotics team when he was in high school help him in his current role at DEVCOM Armaments Center.
“If I have a setback, I don’t get stuck. I know how to recalibrate and reevaluate the hypothesis and propositions to complete a project,” Brauer said. “I also know when to ask for help, which is a huge benefit in the workforce.”
If you are interested in learning more about the FIRST Robotics Competition or how to become a mentor, visit, https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/frc.
The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, known as DEVCOM, is home to thousands of Army scientists, engineers, technicians and analysts working around the globe to leverage cutting-edge technologies and empower the American warfighter with the data and abilities to see, sense, make decisions and act faster than our adversaries – today and in the future.
As part of Army Futures Command, DEVCOM takes calculated risks to find new technological solutions each day. Our experts drive innovation, improve existing technologies and engineer solutions to technical challenges. Our work goes beyond theory to simulation and prototyping. We take potential science and technology solutions from the lab “into the dirt” for experimentation alongside Army Soldiers. DEVCOM prides itself as a global ecosystem of innovators, from world-class universities and large defense contractors, to small, minority-owned businesses and international allies and partners.