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Altair and FIRST Robotics: Catalyzing Students’ Future Success

Allow me to set a scene: hundreds of excited fans gather in a high school gym anxiously watching a competition involving fast action and razor-thin margins. Students, coaches, and judges engrossed in the action dot this landscape and participate in a frenzy of thrills, drama, and pure action.

What comes to mind is probably a high-stakes game of basketball or volleyball or a wrestling match, scenes many parents and students know well. But the scene I described – a scene I witnessed just a few weekends ago for perhaps the thousandth time – was not any of these things. In fact, the “players” on the field were not even human. Rather, the scene I set was synthesized from the many matches I experienced during another amazing FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) event – this one in Woodhaven, Michigan, that ran from March 8-10 which was proudly sponsored by Altair.

These competitions are true spectacles that deliver the same intensity, rivalry, and excitement of traditional sporting events or artistic performances while also preparing the next generation of game-changing innovators to solve real-world engineering problems with real-world tools. 

Founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen,FIRST is a global nonprofit organization that prepares young people for the future through inclusive, team-based robotics programs. Here’s how their website sums up the competitions: “Under strict rules, limited time and resources, teams of students are challenged to raise funds, design a team ‘brand,’ hone teamwork skills, and build and program industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game against like-minded competitors. It’s as close to real-world engineering as a student can get.” 

The 2024 FRC season features nearly 4,000 high school teams from around the world. And we are delighted and honored that Altair software tools are now officially included in the FIRST Kit of Parts. This means thousands of members of these FIRST teams have free access to Altair’s leading technology, including premier solutions like Altair® RapidMiner® and Altair® Inspire™. Our technology is helping STEAM students – those interested in science, technology, engineering, arts, or math – become real-world ready at a whole new level. 


Altair and FIRST Robotics: Two Organizations, One Vision

What makes this collaboration so special is that Altair and FIRST share core values. When Dean Kamen founded FIRST, his vision was to give students – primarily those with technical interests – a way to compete, build connections, and lay the foundation for a successful career. This is a message that’s still as important as ever, and one that Altair’s Academic Program is built around. 

After all, within these robotics competitions, students are working to solve the same types of problems our customers face, including tight timeframes, cost constraints, the need for collaboration, etc. This means these students are developing readiness from a technical perspective, yes, but also from a human perspective. It is just as important to know how to work with a team toward shared goals as it is to use structural analysis software. FIRST empowers students to get better at both.

Moreover, FIRST aspires to give pre-university students hands-on experience with the tools and technology they’ll use as university students and in their professional lives. When the FIRST organization decided to officially include Altair technology in their Kit of Parts, we were thrilled. 

Over the past several years, Altair has sponsored select teams and helped those students and adult mentors succeed with our software. Specifically, several FIRST teams have demonstrated that our software helped them achieve the following common and important goals (and likely others):

  1. Avoid broken robot parts, especially from brief but high loads due to impacts
  2. Lightweight their robot parts, meet weight limits, and be more energy efficient
  3. Readily 3D print (i.e., additively manufacture) their parts faster and more affordably
  4. Ensure desired robot movement for maximum scoring 
  5. Select the optimal alliance partners based on well-informed decisions from scouting data

These are crucial capabilities. FIRST robots are large, complex creations that have thousands of parts. Teams are rewarded for building light, durable, agile robots capable of handling competitions with grace and style. Altair technology helps them do that with the industry’s latest technology. 

And it goes without saying that these students will be tasked with solving these same challenges when they embark on their careers. Companies in the automotive, heavy equipment, aerospace, and marine industries are always looking to lightweight their components and vehicles, and to ensure their products move properly while retaining their structural integrity in the face of immense external forces. Today, this is achieved with engineering design and simulation software. Future engineers must be proficient with it to succeed in their careers – and by using Altair tools as part of FIRST competitions, they’re taking important steps toward proficiency. 

Altair and FIRST appreciate that much of the world counts on the use of great technology to accelerate innovation. It is why we are committed to ensuring our technology is both useful to and readily usable by high schoolers, seasoned professionals, and everyone in between.


A Legacy of Commitment to Students and Academia

Our collaboration with FIRST is a monumental achievement for Altair – one of many demonstrating our commitment to students and fostering the next generation of world-changing talent. The work we do with students is truly a vision that starts at the highest echelons of our organization and includes everyone at Altair. As our CEO Jim Scapa put it, “Today’s students will be tomorrow’s leaders, the people charged with creating world-changing innovations and solving our toughest challenges. Failing to invest in students, and young people in general, is failing to invest in the future.” 



Our legacy of commitment to students runs deep. We recently established more than a million total dollars’ worth of scholarships at Columbia University and the University of Michigan-Dearborn. These scholarships are specifically geared towards expanding access to historically marginalized populations, designed to foster equal opportunity in the world of STEAM. 


Global Student Contest

We also run our own Altair Global Student Contest, designed to showcase student talent from around the world, with challenges and objectives that change from year to year. The current contest helps students see how they can increase sustainability and energy efficiency by lightweighting parts with topology optimization. Exposing students to related simulation capabilities enables them to build crucial skills and, importantly, have fun while engineering. 

As I wrote in my recent article on this year’s contest, in the eight months the contest had been running at that time, we had received entries from students all over the world and awarded more than $20,000 in prizes. Now, we have more than 30 winners who have come from schools in 17 countries around the world. Best of all, each of these winners has a chance at our $7,500 grand prize.

Contests like these help students hit the ground running when they start their careers and enter the workforce. They also help students grasp Altair’s vision – to leverage computational intelligence to drive better decisions for a safer, more connected, and more sustainable future.


Future.Industry Academic Track

Lastly, our commitment to students is evident in the academic track at Altair’s flagship global event, Future.Industry. By allocating an entire track to academia – dedicated to students, instructors, alumni in industry, advisory board members, and others – we are creating a virtuous cycle: students can learn how to get the premier jobs they are seeking; course instructors can complement theory and first principles with software tools, data science, and AI that bring principles to life; and companies can gain access to the transformative, well-prepared talent that will drive innovation now and tomorrow.

And if you look closely, you will notice that one Future.Industry presentation this year – “Designing and Building Better Robots with Altair Inspire” – was from Colin Dagg, one of the high school students leading a FIRST team (#67) in this year’s FRC. We are pleased to give pre-university students the chance to present alongside industry professionals with doctorates and decades of experience at our stakeholder events. It speaks to how much we respect these students and what they are capable of. While we help teach and mentor them within FIRST competitions, they are just as capable of teaching and sharing knowledge with us as well.

Moreover, in that same academic track, we were honored to have a delightful fireside chat with FIRST founder Dean Kamen to talk about giving kids the opportunity to create a successful future for themselves.


Final Thoughts

In our efforts with FIRST, what was once a very humble initiative has this year bloomed into a defining achievement for our global academic team and our company. I am so proud of the work we have done and continue to do every day. I know our solutions and expertise are making a difference in students’ lives, and it is hard to overstate how important this early experience with world-class software is for their personal and professional development.

With our FIRST initiatives, what I am most proud of – and most excited about – is seeing these students’ development on a weekly basis. They are truly information sponges that are endlessly eager to get better at what they do which, in turn, increases the fun they have. 

It is always an immensely rewarding experience to be a part of things bigger than yourself or your organization. At Altair, that is what we strive to do every day – go beyond ourselves, beyond technology, to make a difference in people’s lives. After all, technology is not created for its own sake – it is created for people. FIRST competitions embody this ideal perfectly: they are not really about the robots, but the people behind them (students). We are honored to play a role in furthering this ideal.

Click here to learn more about Altair’s inclusion in the FIRST Robotics Competition Kit of Parts. And to learn more about the Altair Academic Program, visit