By Mary O’KEEFE
Local high school robotic teams are gathering at various areas around the nation, including Los Angeles and Ventura counties, and internationally to compete in the annual FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) competition.
Each year FIRST challenges students to build a robot to compete in a specific game, which changes every year. The students have six weeks from the time they receive the game’s rules and regulations to complete a robot that will compete in a game against other robots. CVW has been looking at the process of how these students, who also participate in sports and art classes, volunteer for the community and keep up their regular academics, also devote hours and hours to designing and building a robot.
CVW continues its coverage of how these young engineers and scientists prepare their robot for competition and how they practice gracious professionalism, part of FIRST values.
CVW earlier covered CAD (computer-aided design) and fabrication of the robot. As the robot begins to come to life it will also need a brain, nervous system, philosophical outlook and, of course, connection to social media, financial support and a place to play.
As soon as the game is announced, in January this year, robotic teams got to work. FIRST not only gives competitors the game rules, robot dimensions and requirements, but also all information concerning the game’s field. So after CADs are turned over to the fabrication department to build, the field department gets to work on creating a place for the robot to practice.
“We build the obstacles that the robot has to accomplish,” said Dhray Sidgh. “We do all the woodwork. We build the course so we are prepared for the competition,” added Lina Horne.
After six weeks, the completed robot begins a process called “bag and tag.” All work stops on the robot and it is put into a type of storage to be opened at the competition.
Teams do not stop working though once the robot is finished. They create prototype robots that are used to practice on the competition floor that is built by the field team.
Some of the field members had experience with woodworking but many learn at robotics with the help from mentors.
When asked what makes a good field team member, Horn said, “You have to be able to learn from your mistakes and have to be ready to tackle new things.”
She added at times their work is repetitive but keeping a positive outlook is key.
“We make what is the heart
of the robot,” said Lance Dennison, a senior.
The heart and the brain – everything electronic that gives the robot power, he clarified.
“We set up the hardware for the programming. We set up the brain and they put in the code,” he said.
With electronics, the team members talk to CAD members as they are designing to discuss what type of board they want in the robot.
The key to being in electronics is organization, said Kiran Hamkins.
“Being someone neat and organized,” Dennison said are common characteristics of electronics members. “When you are working with wires things can get disorganized and messy very fast, so if you aren’t that type of person the electronics won’t be great.”
If electronics makes the emp-ty brain, the software group fills it. This group of students works on software that will make the robot do what they want it to do. Commands will not only be given to the robot by its driver but also during an autonomous portion of the competition.
Autonomous is when the robot follows pre-coded instructions. A portion of the competition requires this type of control.
This year is more challenging because the software will include autonomous choices.
“During the autonomous stage we don’t have a driver,” said Emme Spero. “In the competition we work with two other teams that have their own autonomous [stage] so we have to be adjustable.”
Depending on what the other team’s autonomous robot does in the competition, the CVHS Falkons 589 team wants to be able to have a choice of autonomous commands.
The software group also makes certain that when drivers take the joystick they are able to steer the robot.
“We always start with the drive code,” said Spero.
They also work on the joystick buttons to do special functions. It is their job to make certain when the driver gets behind the wheel, or joystick in this case, and steps on the gas (metaphorically) it moves.
Next week we continue showcasing the making of a robot – from the ground up.
.Anyone on the 589 Robotics team can take the driver’s test. The drivers that perform the best then become the drivers during the competition.
While the robot is being built there are other members of the team that work on the infrastructure. The team members in Software said if a student fines “errors” as a challenge this would be a fit for them.
Sometimes you just stare at an error for a long time to see what is wrong—like playing chess.
The Business group fuels the program with funding and sponsorship.
“We reach out to sponsors and let people know what we do in the community,” said..
Their sponsors included Walt Disney and NASA/JPL among other companies both corporate and small business. The team needs money to enter the competition, which is $5000, and to buy equipment needed to make the robot.
In addition to raising funds they are also tasked with preparing for the Chairman’s Award. This is a requirement for teams who get support from Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The Chairman’s Award includes an essay and presentation.
“It’s an award for celebrating a team’s activities outside of the build season,” said ….
These students are very busy during build season, the six weeks preparing for competition followed by practice for the competition, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. All local teams, Clark, Crescenta Valley and La Cañada participate in FIRST Lego Leagues where they reach out to elementary and middle schools, and Girl Scout troops to mentor the younger kids through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
The 589 team members also attend and volunteer many community events including the Home Town Country Fair, they work with their FLL teams, they take their robot to Rosemont Middle School to share with students and they mentor younger kids who are interested or maybe just curious about robotics. All of this along with build season has the over 120 members of 589 accumulating about 3,000 community service hours….And it is important to note they do this while continuing their academic studies and memberships in other clubs.
The Business group makes certain that the team’s accomplishments are recorded and shared in the essay that is presented at FIRST.
Of course outreach is important as the robotic team’s members go to different community events but social media also plays an important role. Kirk Luther, junior, and Dorian Nelson.
The Website group talk to the entire team to see what they would like on the website.
“We updated the website this year,” said Kirk Luther, junior. “I wanted to go with 589 colors as the theme. We will [include] the history of our team, that is important for those [589 alumni].”
In addition they include the team’s mission statement and drawings from CAD of each robot. Luther and Dorian Nelson, a senior, also on the Website group wanted to make certain the website not only reflects what the team is doing now but to also recognize the teams of the past.
This is a new division at 589 is the Image group. They decorate the booth or pit the team works out of at the FIRST competition. This year the theme of FIRST is steam punk so the 589 has gone all out with gears and copper piping.
“We started working day one of the season. We had ideas of what we wanted our pit [booth] to look like and we wanted to intergrade the them… We immediately started working by sanding and repainting the [pipes],” said ….
The pipes are actually plastic but when 589 got done with them they looked like copper piping that framed the booth. In the back are gears but because these students, with guidance from mentors, go beyond simple decoration to decorations that follow a philosophy, the gears do more than just look good.
“The gears interlock and work together representing our team, how we all work together to build the robot,” she added.
The meaning behind the décor is shared with each member of the team because during the competition judges will come by and ask questions about the pit/booth.
“What the judges will see is a visual representation of the team,” she said.
For this group it is merging their love of STEM with philosophy and art. Both sides of the brain works equally to come up with their home away from home, their pit while they are competition.
One thing that is obvious is that it takes all types of students to get the robot ready for FIRST. From gear heads to philosophers there is a place in robotics. Many of the team members’ work on more than one group but all, like the gears in their pit, work together.