Firebots: Inspiring Commitment to Science and Engineering

by Sean Stone

Pic0Firebots and Robotics

GoEngineer has sponsored the Fremont High School Firebots with SOLIDWORKS training, mentoring and 3D printing services for the last 2 years.

The Firebots are a student-led organization focused on using robotics to teach and inspire students of all ages down a path in STEM related fields.

My role as a mentor is to guide them in the decision-making process while teaching general engineering skills.

The guiding philosophy is for students to make the final design decisions, even if they are fundamentally flawed, so long as there isn’t a safety concern. To learn and grow from mistakes is a key attribute that we try to instill in the students.

The Firebots Challenge

The platform used to teach these skills is FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). Every January, FIRST releases a new game and set of rules. The students then have approximately 6 weeks to design and build a robot to compete in this competition.

This year’s competition was a medieval themed game called FIRST Stronghold. Upon seeing the reveal video and reading over the rules, the students decided they wanted to build a robot that could do everything the game asked of them.

After working 6 days a week for the first 4 weeks and then every day for the last couple of weeks, a robot was built. It did not have all the functions they had hoped for, but it should have been able to perform most of the strategy developed in the beginning. The bad news was that it couldn’t.

The schedule had slipped quite a bit and the robot wasn’t able to be fully tested until the final night of build season. By midnight on the last day of build; you need to place the robot in a large plastic bag that is sealed with a serialized tag. After that, you are not allowed to touch the robot until an official at a competition cuts the tag off.

Firebots Dilemma

Faced with a major dilemma, the team could go to the competition with the robot in the bag and hope they could make small band-aid repairs or go for it all and make drastic changes. You see, FIRST allows teams to bring up to 30 pounds of spare parts to each competition, generally intended as back-ups for existing systems on the robot.

The students decided they were going to design and build a whole new drive base including a new ball intake and shooter weighing less than 30 pounds all in 2 weeks. Through late nights and full weekends, they managed to get it all done in 29.3 pounds, but this was only part 1 of the challenge.

Competition Day Details

pic1FIRST competitions are 3 days long and hosted in Madera, CA.

  • Day 1: “Pit Day” Set up your pit area, robot inspections, and practice if time permits.
  • Day 2: Qualification Matches
  • Day 3: Final qualification matches and elimination rounds.

In order for our team to compete, we needed to assemble our new robot and pass inspection before the start of matches on Day 2.

The Deadline is Near

FirebotsIn order to maximize their time, the students arrived at the pit area early in the morning. They removed the parts they were re-using from the bagged robot and installed them on the new drive base.  It took over 12 hours to get the robot assembled and inspected, but they did it.

The first day included 7 matches with the first 6 serving as debugging for our brand new robot. On the last match of Day 1, we finally had a bug free run where the robot performed for the full match and we were able to contribute to our alliance. The bug free matches continued on Day 3 for our final 3 matches and we ended up 31st out of 49 teams. We weren’t selected to be in the elimination rounds, but overall, this was quite an accomplishment.

Day 3 is concluded with an awards ceremony. Much to our surprise, our team was called upon for the Spirit Award. This award is generally given to the team that is the loudest and are the most spirited in the stands throughout the competition.

Our students could have let the robot troubles and ranking drag them down, but they didn’t. They cheered through it all and had fun doing it. After all, 2 weeks from this competition was another just waiting for us.

Madera to Sacramento

The first day in Sacramento was much more relaxed than in Madera. Now that we had a functional robot to start the day; we were able to pass inspection early on and get our driver some much needed practice on the field.Firebots

Here we are in Day 2 and a few more bugs showed up during our matches. We weren’t able to compete as well as we had hoped to. We ended the day close to last place. Fortunately, this didn’t kill the team’s spirit as much as it could have.

On Day 3, the students kept pushing on, putting the best robot they could out on the field and cheering as loud as they could in the stands. The last match of the day was also the last match of the Qualification rounds. We ranked 60 out of 60. our robot and drive team performed the best match of the season. We jumped up to the 54th position. We didn’t win any official trophies this time but constantly improved and learned lessons that will be invaluable for next season.

This season, perseverance and a never-say-die attitude was truly inspirational. Not once did the Firebots accept defeat, even after being in last place with a temperamental robot. I can’t wait to see how they use this experience to learn and grow next season.


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