Our Robotics Team was hard at work preparing for the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) before Winter Break. FTC is a judged competition open to students in grades 7-12 all around the world with state, regional, and world level competitions. FTC was developed by Dean Kamen the inventor of the Segway PT and Hoover Medal recipient in order to advance students’ abilities in designing, building, and programming robots. The event is intended to instill a love for STEM-related fields, which has certainly been the case here at Tabor. Many of our students who chose Robotics as their Winter Team activity have enjoyed our electrical or mechanical engineering courses and/or our computer science courses where they have been introduced to the engineering design process with Dr. Kistler or programming in our computer science classes. Recent graduates who participated in the program are now studying engineering and computer science at Northwestern University (Poom Sombotboom ‘18), Carnegie Mellon University (Gary Qin ‘19), Tufts University (Harper McKerrow ‘19), and Peking University, Beijing (Kevin Zhang ‘19)
A new FTC design challenge is released every September, which is when most of the more than ten-thousand teams around the world begin. As a winter co-curricular, Tabor Academy’s two teams do not start until late November. The late start adds to the difficulty of the design process but heightens the need for effective design, positive leadership, and dedicated collaboration. The team was frustrated in their first competition last year as they made late changes to the design that forced them to be less proficient in operating the robot at speed during the competition. The team underestimated how important it is for the driver to have enough time to practice the maneuvers in advance of the challenge so they would be familiar with all the controls and the movement of the robot. Learning from the lessons of last year, the group settled early on the design and have been very efficient with the build-out.
With the first iteration of the robot fully constructed, the students were finalizing all the programming of controls in Java and completing the wiring, and configuring the motors, sensors, and servers the robot will use before Winter Break. Each task is recorded in an engineering notebook that documents the team’s ideas, trials, errors, and successes. With a functional robot, the team can now focus on perfecting the tasks required in advance of the competition, which is just a week away.
This year’s challenge requires the robot to autonomously detect a LEGO-like block with an image on it, pick it up, and place it on a building plate, move the plate, and then park somewhere else in less than 30 seconds. After this, the robot is driven by two operators to collect more of these blocks in order to build a tower on the building plate, it then must be able to move the building plate without toppling the tower!
The first of two qualifying competitions will be held at Andover High School and the two teams of fifteen students will make the trek with advisors Mr. Meleo and Mr. Voci. There they will work with and compete against twenty other teams from around the state.
Jose Sulaiman ’20 is the team captain and shared, “Our most important lesson, in engineering and life in general, is that when having a task at hand, we must do it right, and we must do it right the first time. We work with an incredibly tight schedule, and we have no opportunity to redo things that were hastily put together.”
This is the third season for Tabor Robotics and we couldn’t be more impressed with their progress.