Friday, December 13, 2013

Field Trip for the Bot-Mobile

On Wednesday, December 11, Quintin took the robot to his pre-engineering class at Vantage Point Education in Duluth, Georgia. He did a presentation about FIRST and all the different levels (FLL, Jr. FLL, and FTC) and his experience in each.

He thoroughly explained the robot design process and how they landed on their final design, challenges along the way, etc. The class watched the FTC Block Party video so they had a better understanding of the game and program.

The kids were very interested and asked many questions. This tied in to the mechanical engineering unit the class was currently working through as well as the Electrical Engineering unit they just completed.

Way to represent, Quintin!

Mentoring v4.0

We were so excited to have another mentor come to a team meeting. Tom Pappagallo is an Electric Engineer who works as a project manager at Siemans. He has lots of programming experience and we learned a lot from him. We learned about things a project manager's a lot of stuff we are doing: brainstorming, designing the project, creating a timeline, making sure everything stays budget.

It was also cool that he is interested in robots and was familiar with FIRST. He had lots of great advice and asked good questions about our scoop design. Thank you, Tom!


After our competition, we spent the entire next meeting debriefing. We came up with lots of things we want to tweak before the next qualifier in January. Some of the things we need to work on are:
  • Our block grabber didn't work well and broke a lot so we want to build a scoop.
  • We want to add another scoring mechanism...a turner to raise the flag. 
  • We want to write mirror of our programming for the autonomous period so we can choose which way we want to robot to go based on what other teams are doing.
  • We need to beef up our engineering notebook and include more details.
We also created a timeline. We only have about 6 meetings to do everything to be ready for the qualifier! We can do it; we can do it; we can do it!!!

It’s Competition Time

We participated in our first competition (called a Qualifier) on Saturday, November 16. We didn’t know exactly what to expect, so we were excited and nervous. It was a long, good day. We’ll give you the scoop here.

Team Ctrl-Alt-Del with The Bot-Mobile

We arrived about 7am, set up our “pit area” (which was a table were we worked on our robot between matches) and then got ready for robot inspections. There are lots of rules we have to follow when building the robot, and if it doesn’t pass either the hardware or software inspection, we can’t compete.

Hardware Inspection
Software Inspection
Then we had some time on a practice field. This was awesome, since this was the first time we actually got to try the robot on a full field.

Next came the judging session. We had 10 minutes in front of 2 judges to tell them about our team and the season. Our goal was to “impress.” We each had a subject to present, which took 5 minutes. Then we showed them our robot. Then we asked what questions they had. Guess what…they didn’t have any! That means we did a great job presenting, right?!

It was finally time for the robot rounds. We competed in 5 matches during the day. The first match was just OK. We didn’t score many points but learned a lot. And it was fun!

During the match, we got an idea for scoring more points, but it meant we needed to change our programming. So we went to the practice field to work on it. Our coaches and parents said, “You might want to think about changing your programming. You don’t want to make it worse!” But we did it anyway J. And we’re glad we did. In our next match, we were partnered with Team SharkBite and together we scored 133 points! That was the highest point total in the competition for the day so far.

Our other matches weren’t as successful, but we learned a lot in each one. We realized that a weak link on our robot is the block grabber. It breaks too easily and we need to come up with another strategy for picking up the blocks.

Our alliance partner from earlier in the day, SharkBite, was the number 3 team at the end of all the matches, so they advanced. The top 4 get to choose alliance partners for the semifinals, and SharkBite chose us! Whichever alliance won the best 2 out of 3 matches moved on to the finals.

We won the first match and were so excited. But then the other alliance changed their programming to block one of our moves, and it caused us to not do as well. They won the next 2 matches and advanced to the finals.

We were very disappointed. But we were also very excited. We think we did really, really well for our first competition…to be selected for one of the final alliances was a huge honor.  Now we can’t wait to get back to the shop and tweak our robot based on everything we learned!

Ready for a match

Team spirit


The judges visit our pit area and ask lots of questions
More programming and practicing


Working on the programming

Problem solving on the practice field

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Quick Robin, to the . . .


We decided we needed a name for our robot. We came up with lots of ideas - some good, some not-so-good :-). We discussed them all and landed on The Bot-Mobile!

Thanks to Coach Kerns for the cape.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Mentoring v3.0

One of the things that is important in FTC is mentoring. Teams are encouraged to be available to other teams for support. We are so lucky to have teams in our area that take this seriously.

We made the decision to switch programming languages. LabView was having too many glitches, so we moved to RobotC. The challenge is that we didn't know much about RobotC. Team Genius to the rescue!

Anika, a Team Genius member, came to our team meeting to tutor us in programming RobotC. It would have taken us so much time to learn on our own what she was able to teach us in one afternoon.

Thank you, Anika. We are really grateful!

18.5 Inches...On NO!

One of the rules for the robot is that it must be no bigger than 18 inches x 18 inches x 18 inches. Before the competition, it will be inspected by the judges and must fit into a sizing cube. We thought we had it under control . . . and then we measured it one more time. Oops!

The way we designed our conveyor meant it extended beyond the back brackets by about 1/2 inch. Which made our robot too big! Which meant we had to disassemble a significant part of it to move some of the pieces to decrease the size.

The other problem we discovered is that the side-to-side measurement was about 18.25 inches. That may not seem like much, but that 0.25 inch would keep us out of the competition. The problem here was the the the screws on the omni-wheels. The only solution we could find was to replace the omni-wheels with regular wheels, so that's what we did.

We had a couple of hours of panic going on, but now we're all set. The robot will fit inside the 18 inch cube, so that's one part of the robot inspection we will pass!

Conveyor Complexities and Grabber Guards

As we have practiced driving and scoring, we've discovered two problems we need figure out how to solve.

The "grabber" is the mechanism we built to pick up the blocks off the playing field and it is made out of Lego pieces.  We've discovered that it isn't the very stable and can break easily, especially if it is jammed. So we are designing some guards to hopefully protect it. We are also securing the connections with nuts and bolts.

Once the grabber picks up a block, it moves to the conveyor which moves the block up to be able to dump into the goal and score. The problem is that the blocks fall off of the conveyor and into the middle of the robot. To solve this, we've designed side panels that will fit on both sides of the conveyor to keep the blocks on. Right now the sides are made of cardboard. But we will make the final versions out of plexiglass.

We are learning that the robot will never be "done." There will always be ways we can improve it!

Friday, November 1, 2013

It's Alive!

Now that the programming problems are solved, the robot works. It was so exciting to see the wheels turn and the conveyor spin. We were able to drive the robot and practice scoring for the first time! We are SO excited.


After tons of troubleshooting, we finally figured out that the problem with the programming was with the NXT brick. It was confusing because the brick worked with all the components, but for some reason it wouldn't respond to the programming. We borrowed a brick from the Determinators, the FLL team that Jackson and Quintin were on last year. And it worked.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Programming challenges

We mentioned earlier that we are working hard on building our robot. At the same time, we're working on programming. It won't do any good having a great design if we can't make it move!  But there has been a's not working. 

At first we thought we were programming incorrectly, so we watched some more tutorials. We talked to our mentor from Team Twisted Axle and tried his suggestions. Could be the batteries, right? So we charged and recharged them. Then we thought it was the motor controllers, so we did some testing on those. They seem to be working ok.  So the mystery remains and the troubleshooting continues.  Hopefully, we'll have good news to report soon. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Mentoring v2.0

We had the opportunity to Skype with Andy Ross for a mentoring session. Mr. Ross is the CEO of Ross Valve which is a family owned business in Troy, NY that was started in 1879. They make valves of all sizes (including really huge) for the water and waste water industries. Mr. Ross is the 4th generation of his family to work in the company. How cool is that? You can learn more about it here. 

Mr. Ross told us about his industry and his company. We talked about engineering as a career and he had good advice for us. Then we told him about FTC and our robot. He asked lots of good questions and we asked for his observations about our robot. He cautioned us to pay attention to the conveyor belt and make sure we can control the tension. Great advice! 

Thanks, Mr. Ross!

Sunday, October 27, 2013


This week, a mentor visited our team meeting: Jamie Hill. She is currently a teacher at Vantage Point Education in Duluth, Georgia, where she teaches physics and pre-engineering. She has a diverse background in engineering, which you can read about here. She described many of the jobs she's had, and it was really interesting to hear about when she managed a chemical plant.

She had lots of good advice for us. She suggested that we continue looking for "hands-on" opportunities to practice engineering through high school, like robotics. And she gave us advice about how to pursue an engineering degree. She was very encouraging.