Inventor and FIRST® Founder Dean Kamen launched the 2015 FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC®) season on January 3, 2015 with the Kickoff of a new robotics game called RECYCLE RUSHSM. Nearly 75,000 high-school students on approximately 3,000 teams at 107 venues around the globe joined the 2015 Kickoff via live Comcast NBCUniversal broadcast.
RECYCLE RUSHSM is a recycling-themed game played by two Alliances of three robots each. Robots score points by stacking totes on scoring platforms, capping those stacks with recycling containers, and properly disposing of pool noodles, representing litter. In keeping with the recycling theme of the game, all game pieces used are reusable or recyclable by teams in their home locations or by FIRST at the end of the season.
It was pretty easy to pick up on The RoHawks’ excitement on Stop Build Day. There were no panicked rushing and pressure for fixing the last piece. Instead, it was a night of lively discussion, fun practice and tasty pizza.
When I joined, the team was talking about the robot’s name. Assistant Principal, Lisa Siegmann, explained this was, “in part to honor the founding teacher at HCHS who scraped together the very first RoHawks team four years ago, math teacher Ms. Carolyn Mayadas who passed away this fall.” After this sweet tribute, I talked to the students about their season.
“What’s really awesome is it’s actually a complete robot. Everything about it works. Everything about it can play the game,” said co-captain Axel. Rachel, their other captain noted, “in the past we’ve been nowhere near this point with the robot on stop build day and working until midnight, tweaking things and not feeling fully confident about them.”
What made this year so different? The captains explained how the team implemented a much more structured process with the build. “Generally we say this works and start making it. The year we dedicated a couple of weeks to making prototypes,” said Axel. After the team continued to evaluate and improve until they had a final prototype a few weeks back. Then starting from scratch, they made a concerted process to CAD and document what they did.
The team also followed a KISS – Keep It Simple Students – approach. Rachel said, “I feel really confident about this robot because it’s all the things that a robot should be. It’s simple. The design has only two mechanisms that work really nicely together.”
Noah, a senior in his 3rd year at FIRST and the lead programmer, echoed this point. “Last year we tried to do too much. This year was about making everything simple and elegant. We about talked about driving and there was more thought ahead of time about how to we want to set this up for the driver.” One great benefit of this approach is a sonar mechanism they have built on the robot. Using color coded lights, the driver will be able to tell the best place to shoot.
The season did bring some hiccups. No one can escape the heavy snow storms. Douglas a sophomore in his second year on the team, informed me how they lost practices and had to cancel their scrimmage at Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx. “Because of the snow, trucks couldn’t come with the materials we needed. We cancelled and lost important time to for planning for the assist element.” The team also encountered an issue with the compression of the robots arms, but was able to resolve it.
Perhaps what’s made this all possible is the team itself. Noah admitted, “organization is one of the hardest things to get” but he explained how the team structured itself into mini-teams. “Everybody’s on a team – C&C team, assembly team, etc.” It allowed team members to focus on getting good at something they’re interested in.
Rachel also observed although this is the first year with no founding members that everyone stepped up to their roles. “We’ve spent the past five years as a team evolving and developing new skills and technologies. I feel like this year we’ve really become one of the leading veteran teams and we have a really good robot to show for it.”
Photographs provided by Miles Shebar, yearbook photographer at Hunter High School
In January, the team, led by mentor from City College, was evaluating different models for the general shape of the robot. Students weighing in on opinions, drawing up mockups on the whiteboard to explain ideas. There are nods of approval, friendly debates, and even snippets of a student’s soundtrack app to applaud strong points.
Mark, a sophomore, commented, “this year we’re mostly controlling everything from the ideas and concepts about what we’re going to do and make it work to perform”.
The plan of action? Nazario explained, “this week, we are just focusing on ideas that will apply to the competition. Next week we start the build.”
The students will then separate into groups, with each student having two tasks, like being a programmer or drawing things on CAD. “That way everyone can learn about different fields of engineering and get a lot of work done too,” Nazario pointed out.
Talking about their design, Sam, a junior who’s second year in FRC, says, “I think it will work. There were other designs. I preferred, but it’s more about execution, doing things well and on time. You can’t do too many things at once. If you don’t allow time for debugging then there’s a very good chance that your robot is not going to work at Javits.”
While busy with design, it’s clear that the team is excited to start the build and learning more about robotics. Nazario, “It’s really fun and easy to fit in while nerding out.” Andres, as senior, said, “I’m looking forward to seeing what the other designs the other teams are going to do. I’m hyped up to see what’s it’s gonna be like this 3rd time around.” Sam later confirms, “I think it’s going to be a pretty good year for the team – overall it’s most important that we enjoy it.”
Kickoff: Snowstorm Prevents Travel, but Not Gracious Professionalism – Advice from Mentors
Snowstorm Hercules prevented travel for some teams to make it to kickoff. Randolph Robotics, located in Hamilton Heights was one of them. Their coach, Suman Sabastin, asked them to stay home and read materials for their homework. Luckily, she was able to rely on her alumni from Brooklyn Tech Knights (#334), where she used to coach, to help to pick up supplies for the Randolph Robotics (#4108) team. I got a chance to talk with these alumni at the Kickoff:
How did this come together?
David D. – Always blame it on Suman (jokingly). No, she’s great at keeping everybody up to date on things. You know it was great to come and help out.
What do you think of this year’s challenge?
Anniella M. – It looks pretty interesting. It gives a lot of opportunities for rookie teams or teams that don’t have as much help, as a some of the veteran teams or teams with more school backing, mentors or sponsorships. It’s a little easy for both sets or types of the team to be a good shot at a having a competition and really making it.
Any advice to new current teams?
Christian G. – Definitely stick with it. There’s going to be a lot of long hours and work, but you’re going to gain a skillset that you can’t find anywhere else. You’re going to enter college with technical skills and then years from then you’re going to enter the work field and you’re going to have so much more programming and machine shop and technical skill.
Any observations for the Randolph Robotics?
Anniella M. – We’ll have to see when we brainstorm and how put it together. The best thing is KISS (Keep It Simple Students) and stick with it. And as Suman tends to push toward, make sure we have a model, that it can work and that it has a stamp of approval before we build.
In accordance with the theme of Aerial Assist, we will be following two FRC teams in the 2014 season. “The Road to Javits” will follow these teams start at Kickoff and to their competition in the NYC Championships at the Jacob Javits Center.
The two teams:
Join us in learning more about teamwork, experiences and insights from these exciting teams!
Rohawks at Kickoff: Ready for Aerial Assist
The Rohawks (#3419), joined the rest of the FRC NYC teams on the pickup line in NYU-Poly’s long hallway. They of course were excited about the challenge and were already brainstorming ideas.
For teammate Priya, this was her first time at Kickoff and first time in robotics. “Everyone was really excited once the video started so it was fun to be part of that energy. This game isn’t like any of the other videos we watched before so I’m excited to see what we’re all going to do”.
The most talked about aspect of the challenge this year seems to be the assist part of the challenge. Team member Alex noted,”you’re randomly matched with teams you might not not and that you will need to rely on something independently built; they might have many features in common and you’ll need to figure it out”.
Team captain, Rachel, informed me that cooperation element had mixed reviews 2 years ago. She explained “it will be interesting to build a robot that can do everything with and without the assisting from other teams”.
Axel, the other team captain, echoed how this would be a challenge. “How do you balance what you can depend on from your teammates and what you can do for yourself? What I think is really cool about this game is that you can do everything. In fact you kind of have to do everything. Because last year you had the choice between climbing the period and shooting frisbees. so you had to do one of the other. This year you need to do both, pick up the ball and throw it and use that same skill for assisting. This year the balance is assisting and throwing.”
In response to whether the team thought they were ready for Aerial Assist, without hesitation Rachel responded, “Always” with a confident smile.
Like most little kids, Elijah liked planes and flying. However, it was an experience with JetBlue and the Fresh Air Fund when he was 5 that sparked his passion for aviation engineering.
Elijah’s mother signed him up with the Fresh Air Fund when he was 5. After a fun time with them, the family invited him back to visit them in Vermont. This was a difficult experience for his mother as Elijah had to travel alone. Fortunately, she was able to talk with the flight attendant, who happened to be the grandparent of the Fresh Air family. The flight attendant introduced Elijah to the pilot, JetBlue Capt. Eric Scott.
Capt. Scott invited him to board early and show him the cockpit and how everything worked. He was very impressed with young Elijah commenting how, “he was very well spoken and charismatic for a 5 year old”. This experience made a strong impression on Elijah. He explains, “this geared me to aviation even more and I liked the feeling of being up in the sky.”
Now a sophomore at Bronx Aerospace High School & Evander Campus he is starting his second season with the Aerobotic Tigers 3670 FRC team. Elijah joined after learning about the team through a friend. “When I joined we started building the robots. I got to learn more about electronics and the building blocks. I was able to socialize with people who knew about this stuff and that was helpful.“
Elijah dreams of being a pilot and but also feels very strongly about robotics. “Robotics is actually a really good program. it should be able to available to all students. It teaches you about team values and engineering and gives you a career path.” His team was also able to explore more about aviation after last year’s competition by building a model. “I got to learn more about about how the plane works,” said Elijah.
This prepared Elijah for a reunion with the original pilot and flight attendant from 10 years ago. For Elijah it was a fun experience where he “had a better understanding of what they do, how things work and the sacrifices in pilots make.” To Capt. Scott, “not much has changed, he’s still very motivated and I still saw that 5 year old kid in him, where his eyes got all big and he was excited to learn more.”
Capt. Scott now mentors Elijah about being a pilot. He talked about the importance of STEM education and activities like FIRST. He said, “if you give kids chances to innovate with a challenge, it will help them. I wouldn’t be surprised if a high schooler could develop the next big thing.”
In the meantime, Elijah is getting ready to start his second season with Aerobotic Tigers. “I’d like to rank higher this season. We did pretty good last year but didn’t make it to Boston.”
In addition to FIRST, Elijah is competing with a friend in Lehman College’s SciFest. He is also mentoring his younger brother about FIRST and robotics. His advice to a student that’s nervous about participating in FIRST, “Just go for it, don’t second guess yourself. If you really want to do it you can do anything you want.”