FTC Heights Techies: 2021 Virtual Season Reflection

April 23, 2021

Written by: Ezzaddin Aldaylam, Student at University Heights High School

FTC Team: Heights Techies

This past year has been difficult for everyone including the Heights Techies, an FTC team representing the University Heights High School in the Bronx. Although FIRST was able to design this season to support remote teams, our team still struggled to fully participate, from accessing resources to building in a virtual space. As a public school team, we were restricted by regulations of the city and special circumstances due to our school being a vaccination site. This restriction prevented us from accessing our robotics parts and resources. Fortunately, we received non-FTC prototyping parts early this season from the NYC FIRST STEM center. This allowed us to prototype some of our ideas and helped teach our new members the basics of mechanics, programming, and electronics. At the start of the school year, we were able to recruit several new members and we were able to create a space where everyone could participate. Since we didn't have access to physical parts or a space to build, we decided to focus on virtual resources which made it easier for everyone to participate. We decided on virtual resources because they allowed us to work safely without having to meet in person, and it made it easier for us to transfer to an in-person experience once we had access.

As a team, we had to overcome many challenges this season with our virtual tools, with one of the biggest challenges being collaboration. We used Computer-aided design (CAD) to design the robot and a simulator to help us learn to program and visualize the movement of our robot. We started using Onshape because it allowed for real-time updates and we structured the design of the robot in a way that allowed teammates to work individually while still working under the constraints of the entire robot. And for our programmers, we used a few platforms including GitHub to update and share code.

On the other hand, besides designing and attempting to build a physical robot, we concentrated most of our time and effort on community outreach. Many of our team members participated in different programs with NYC FIRST, such as Makers for COVID-19 and the Youth Council. We participated in these programs to try and help our community by producing PPE equipment and building helpful resources that will benefit other teams. As we come closer to the competition, we have been trying to work even harder. We recently met in-person, outside our school for the first time to distribute robotics parts that we received from our mentors at the NYC FIRST STEM Center. This was one of the best moments because it had been over a year since we met and it was great to see how we were able to overcome all the challenges - even if it was just for a few minutes

We now plan to use those parts to start building our robot. Several team members received individual parts focused on creating a specific part for our robot. Using our CAD design, we distributed mechanisms that will be connected together by one person. For example, since our design has the intake belt and shooter as one mechanism, the parts were delivered  to one person while the chassis and intake went to another person. This makes it easier to build all the parts and assemble them once each member has completed building their mechanism . And for the builders who were unable to get physical materials, they are helping out in other ways with sketches and CAD design.

In addition to building our robot, we are working on bringing back our STEM workshops that we started last year. In these workshops, we teach programming languages such as Java and CAD softwares such as Onshape. We started with our school community last year and this year  we are expanding to other teams and adults (such as teachers and mentors). In addition, we have been outreaching to multiple organizations and individuals working in the STEM field. Our outreach includes Bloomberg, Two Sigma, Columbia robotics lab, and HK Makerlab. Through this outreach, we plan to receive mentorship and feedback on our designs and things we can improve. My team also participated this year in the Innovation challenge where we tried to improve a problem in this world, related to health and movement. The problem we decided to solve was the lack of blood circulation for wheelchair users. We just got our idea approved and we are now working on determining a clear solution. Some of our ideas involve the use of mechanical and electrical devices to help circulate blood.

Finally, this year has been very difficult, but we have been able to overcome multiple challenges by working together as a team and not letting the remote season bring us down. 

Ezzaddin's Story:

"My name is Ezzaddin, an aspiring mechanical engineer from University Heights Height High School. I am also the co-captain of team #11997, Heights Techies. I enjoy working in the STEAM field in things such as Robotics, 3D printing, Circuitry, and Computer-aided design. I like to use my skills in helping out my community with things such as producing PPE and working on different improvement projects."