The FIRST Robotics Competition is an incredible experience. I’ve mentioned it before on this blog in little anecdotes or goals, but never to the extent I am about to go.
This year, myself and a fellow FIRST volunteer named Dave decided we were going to bring the FIRST Robotics Competition a little closer to home, and started a team at a local high school with the help of science teacher Mr.F.
It all started on the first Saturday of January, known as “Kickoff”. January 5th, a group of students got on a bus to Girard, Ohio to analyze this year’s game, and pick up the kit of parts.
This group of students had, for the most part, never worked together before. They also had very little clue on what this “FIRST” thing even was.
Throughout the six week build season, this group of students became smaller and smaller, eventually steadying out at 13. Six weeks to build a robot? How’s that possible? Well, these students accomplished it. The picture above was from January 17th, two of the six weeks into build season. And that’s not a robot.
Four and a half weeks into build season, we had a driving robot, strictly from the kit of parts.
February 5th was the date of this milestone, and it gave the students some renewed hope. Maybe they’d get something they can put on the field, after all.
Of course, there were so many obstacles we had to overcome, and we could not have overcome them without outside help. The teams in our area, specifically team 2010, really stepped up to help us and mentor our students in ways myself, Dave, and Mr.F could not.
February 15th. Four days until Stop Build Day, and the day we have to put the robot in a giant bag.
We had a structure on top of our robot! It was starting to look like something. Again, major shout-out to the designer from FRC Team 2010.
It was simple. We had pneumatics at the front to push out a platform to “grab” the hatch panels, and were going to add a box on top for cargo.
A sturdy robot that promised consistency, team members were starting to realize the time commitment that the FIRST Robotics Competition called for. Two days a week for two hours was simply not enough, and there were several days leading up to Stop Build Day where the students would stay until late at night to finish what they were working on.
Stop Build Day finally came on February 19th, and we put this guy in a bag. I was going to say “little guy”, but at 80 pounds and a perimeter of a little under 120 inches, this was no “little guy”.
Stop Build Day didn’t come without its own challenges, however. Finishing the robot, and then driving it for about an hour were our goals. Both of those were met- and then a problem met us. Our robot stopped driving. Lights were flashing red, and errors were coming up left and right.
After extensive troubleshooting and messages exchanged on community FIRST platforms, we got our robot driving again. We put it in the bag right away.
Two weeks of waiting, and our team would be attending the Miami Valley Regional in Dayton, Ohio, as its first ever regional event.
A little over three hours away, our group of nine students got on a school bus at 4 o’clock in the morning on Thursday and headed to the Nutter Center.
I wish it went as smoothly as that paragraph made it sound. Our robot and tool cart didn’t fit on the school bus, and Dave had to drive down with those. After taking the wheels off the cart, laying the robot on its side, stuffing the robot cart into my car, and putting Dave’s spare tire on the bus, we were set for a crazy 4am drive.
The drive itself was incredibly uneventful, other than simply just being exhausted and following a school but that was going… quite fast.
We got to the Nutter Center, and unloaded the pit and robot stuff from the three vehicles. Students were speechless at the size of the event… It was unlike anything they’d imagined.
A drive team meeting kicked off the day, and practice matches would soon follow.
We only made two of our practice matches, as we had a lot of stuff to do on our robot. We added the box (which turned into a triangle) for the cargo on top, and we finalized the bumpers. There was also lots of fun troubleshooting and coding that came along with being at our first ever competition.
But, after only one formal practice match, the students did it. On Friday, we were in the first qualification match of the day, and we won. It was a rush of excitement for everyone.
Several hours spent on the practice field in half hour increments, adapting the code to fit the needs of the drivers, and learning how to manage stress while still driving effectively were the key parts of Friday, and these students absolutely nailed it.
For the majority of Friday, we were seated in the number one position, of 60 teams. That’s… incredible for a rookie team.
On Saturday, we made it into alliance selections, and eventually were the Captain of the #5 Alliance. Selecting teams 3484 and 4027, we went into the playoffs.
While we lost 0-2 to the #4 Alliance, I saw our students display enthusiasm and leadership like I had never seen before.
The quiet students really broke out of their shell, and while stressful, the drive team made several tough decisions with the team and alliance.
It was a crazy experience of ups and downs, but the students absolutely had the time of their lives. We ended up being awarded Highest Rookie Seed, as well as the Rookie Inspiration Award at the 2019 Miami Valley Regional.
I’m so incredibly proud of all the students on the team. It was a crazy weekend, and I learned so much as well. Patience, stress management, communication… being a mentor is no easy thing, but it is one of the most rewarding feelings in the world.
Seeing the drive team work together and communicate, and witnessing the students break out of their shells were the highlights of my weekend, perhaps even more so than any award meant to me.
I can’t wait to see where the next few years bring us.