My FIRST career as a team member took place between 2001 and 2009. At the beginning of that time, the FLL program was just kicking off. But by the time my all girls team and I had reached the end of 8th grade (the end of the FLL program in the US) we were hungry for more. We had joined our “brother” team in Atlanta at the World Championships in April 2004 and had seen the “big robots”. As many of you know, after seeing an FRC team in action there’s no going back.
But we had our share of obstacles. Mainly, we were not funded or supported by our school district. While they loved what we did and championed our STEM cause, there was no space for an FRC team and no faculty willing to put in the time or resources. As a “potential” naïve rookie team, we had no space, no funding and no mentors. Like many FLL teams that had come before us, we thought that our robotics days were over. On to sports, theatre and homework.
Or was it?
By late January-mid February of 2005 our group got the news. Now when I say our group, this is something VERY unique. My town has approximately seven or so FLL teams each season that all work under one organization. They meet together weekly to talk about problems, show off their robots and have fun! So our new group of engineers consisted of members from an all-girls team (grade 8), an all-boys team (grade 8) and an all-boys team (grade 9). These teams then mixed together to create two NEW teams to compete in our new challenge. Why did we do this? Our town’s organization was only offered two slots in the pilot program demonstration in Atlanta. We also wanted to mix things up, since team members had already spent the FLL season with each other. With a completely new challenge we had no idea what to expect. There needed to be an equal amount of builders, designers and programmers on each team.
Our two teams sat wringing our hands for a while. The only information that we had been given was that it was to be a “scale FRC event”. With that in mind, we thought: “shoot, we know NOTHING about building and designing an FRC robot”. So we had boot camp. Boot camp included everything from engineering basics (ie what’s a center of gravity) to how to code in C+. We were very lucky that all of the dads/coaches on our team were either engineers themselves or worked in software.
Like many teams, there was a trial and error period. But with only 6 weeks and a brand new kit we had a steep learning curve. What wheels would work well on the playing surface? What was the right strategy? What gearing should we use? Are we going for speed or torque? Do we even want to hang from the middle bar? Who on our team is good and accurate at throwing whiffle balls!?!
A tournament can be a daunting place. Add on the additional pressure of it being the Worlds Championships (held in Atlanta). Add on the additional pressure of having never competed with your robot before on real playing field. You start to wonder if you should even be there… But as anyone will tell you, it’s an amazing experience. While only one team of the two teams made it through alliance selection and neither team won any awards, we all had an amazing experience showing off our creations. By the start of the 2005-2006 season in September we had created a total of three FVC teams stemming from the old FLL teams, and we never looked back- with at least two thirds of the teams returning to the World Championships each year until high school graduation.
In writing this piece, I contacted my team members (OF COURSE) to get their opinions on FVC and the move to FTC. One member pointed out the “VEX” is a much cooler name than “Tech”… but oh well! However the most common observation by my team members was in regards to the move to the new FTC kit in the 2008-2009 season. While game strategy and play remained the same, the Tetrix kit was a curve ball to teams that had become accustomed to the VEW kit. Tetrix kits were provided to teams that had already been involved with FVC, and our team took advantage of what we saw as “free metal”. The main change was the move from plastic gears and components to aluminum. This was received enthusiastically by our teams, as the plastic components (especially the gears and the tank treads) had a tendency to break very easily during competition. During the FVC years, it was not uncommon for a robot to die during a match because of a broken gear or wheel; many “spare parts” were often found on the field. But with “free metal” came a major challenge: the parts rarely matched up. VEX metal aligned with VEW metal and Tetrix metal aligned with Tetrix metal, but the two rarely fit together. As teams today know, the Tetrix piecies have a circular hole pattern. The vex pieces, on the other hand, had a simplistic square hole pattern. This created major problems in our design, and cost the team valuable build time as we sometimes found ourselves trying to put together pieces that didn’t quite fit. But in the end everything works out for the best…
Gawle, Julia. “Robotics.” Facebook. 8 March 2009. 3 Oct 2015. <www.facebook.com>