New Java ™ Technology for FIRST Robotics – Developed by WPI Students and Sun Microsystems Researchers – Unveiled Today

Media Contact
April 16, 2009

WORCESTER, Mass. – A Java™ Technology implementation, developed by a team of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) students and researchers from Sun Microsystems, will be made available to all teams participating in the 2010 FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). The announcement was made today at the 2009 FIRST Championship, which is underway at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

"This is an exciting time for FIRST teams," said Brad Miller, associate director of WPI’s Robotics Resource Center. "By capitalizing on the work done by a project team of WPI students with Sun Microsystems engineers last fall and the power of the cRIO platform, we’re able to provide another programming language option for teams. With so many students already learning the Java language in high school, I'm sure it will be a popular choice."

The robotics competition challenges teams of young people and their mentors to solve a common problem in a six-week timeframe using a standard "kit of parts" and a common set of rules. Teams build robots from the parts and enter them in competitions; for a number of years, Java has been the top language requested by FIRST teams for inclusion in the kit. Now, for the first time ever, contestants in the 2010 FIRST competition will be able to use Java, LabView, or C++ to program their robots.

The creation of the Java platform is the culmination of several years of work by WPI students and researchers from the Sun SPOT project at Sun Microsystems Laboratories. This year's championship attendees can see the new Java technology in action through technical presentations, or by visiting a booth for hands-on demonstrations.

James Gosling, Sun Fellow and vice president of Sun Microsystems, noted, "Java on embedded devices has been an exciting world for a number of years. It’s wonderful to see Java showing up in an educational area as interesting, as challenging, and as fun as the FRC. Sun is very happy to be participating with Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the FIRST mission, and we appreciate the support FIRST has given WPI and Sun to make Java available to FIRST robotics teams."

This is not the first contribution WPI has made to the FIRST tool kit; last year WPI and FIRST launched a software library that is now an integral element of a control system used by all teams participating in the FIRST Robotics Competition. That system was developed with FIRST and National Instruments, and it expanded the capabilities of the FIRST teams by providing them with the choice of using the language C/C++ or National Instrument's LabVIEW, a graphical programming language.  The C/C++ users base their code on a programming library that Miller and a team of WPI faculty and students developed. Called WPILib, the library includes a range of modules that enables high school students to easily and quickly develop programs that take full advantage of the enhanced power of the new control system.

In addition to providing software for the control system, WPI also developed the FIRST Robotics Resource Center website (, which the university has hosted since 2006. With a two-year, $189,500 award from the National Science Foundation, two WPI student project teams went on to build a social networking community for FIRST teams called ThinkTank  that promotes the sharing of information, helps teams support one another, and makes it easier for new teams to get up and running. The site also provides a centralized source of information for teams around the world that participate in FIRST competitions. 

About WPI Robotics

In 2006, WPI established the nation's first bachelor's degree program in robotics engineering. This year WPI announced that it will also offer a master’s of science degree in the field starting this fall, thus becoming the only university in the nation with both undergraduate and graduate programs in robotics engineering. WPI's Robotics Engineering Advisory Board consists of representatives of several leading robotics companies including Helen Greiner, founder of iRobot Corp.; David Kelley, president of Bluefin Robotics; Scott Myers of the Technology Solutions Group of QinetiQ North; and Dean Kamen. WPI has also sponsored a team in the FIRST high school completion since 1992, and sponsors teams at the Massachusetts Academy of Mathematics and Science at WPI and Burncoat High School in Worcester.