This is the first year that my school has competed in the FIRST Robotics Competition, so our knowledge and experience about building robots, especially of this size, was just about zero. We were given our materials and task in the beginning of January and had until February 18th (I think) to complete it.
Our robot took shape very slowly for many reasons, but in the last two weeks we started into a flurry of activity and amazingly produced a viable robot. It could drop frisbees into the lowest of the slots, it also had a net on the top to intercept other team's frisbees. The base was built using aluminium "X" rails and the top from plywood. We re-purposed a lazy susan to turn and allow frisbees to slide down a plastic ramp.
We also designed some hooks after our robot was packed away. They were based on cardboard models and roughly sketched to fit by what we could see through the giant plastic bag that the robot had to stay in until competition day.
When we arrived at the Olympic oval on thursday for the Western Canadian FRC regional, we immediately set to work installing our newly made hooks. We then asked some other teams for help with our programming, which was still not behaving correctly, luckily for us team 4105 (I think) gave us a hand (for about 5 hrs). We then tried a practice round, we managed to test all systems including the hooks, which we were all surprised to see worked flawlessly first time. However a poorly attached GoPro camera fell into our electronics and fried everything. After another few hours with the FIRST mentors we fixed the electronics. By this time the first day was over.
On Friday we came in and were all a bit stunned because everything was working. We competed in our first matched and still everything was working, this was worrying because normally (based on Thursdays experience) something would need to be fixed after every match. It was during our second match that our luck ran out and all our carefully laid plans were destroyed. While climbing the tower the top half of our robot sheered off. This meant that our entire scoring and blocking system was completely wrecked.
When we got to both pieces of our previously working robot back to the pits we realized that the problem was worse than it appeared, and it appeared pretty bad. The bottom frame was misaligned and the corner brackets had bent or snapped, and the electronics were once again not working. This meant that we would need several hours of tinkering and tightening, along with some other team's spare parts, and plenty of mentor help to get something we could even drive. This was when design went out the window and the Jury (or Jerry?) rigging began.
We began once the frame was squared up, we took our largest chunk of wood, drilled holes and bolted it between the two (only slightly bent) hooks in hopes that they would be able to hold our 90lbs of robot. We then encountered a problem, the hooks had to have equal weight on either side in order to balance the robot on the lowest rung of the pyramid. But with the top half of our robot missing the center point were the hooks were mounted was no longer the balancing point. To solve this we began duck taping and zip tying various items, including wrenches and hand sanitizer bottles in different locations around the robot until we had something close to balance.
At this point we once again entered a match only to learn that mysteriously our robot was only moving forwards and backwards, not turning the way it was supposed to. This we thought was a coding problem, but it turned out that we had placed our frame upside down, so that the middle wheals were higher than the front and back ones, meaning that instead of a turn on a dime handling machine we were now trying to turn a big unruly box. We solved this by repeatedly wrapping electrical tape around the wheels until we had a thick enough layer that the middle wheel was once again touching the ground. Our steering was restored, the last thing to do was zip tie our bumpers (the padding on the sides of the robot) into a more secure place, and cross our fingers.
All our McGyvering payed off we ended up coming eighth out of thirty. We were incredibly surprised, we even had to choose our partners, for finals the next day, something we had not even considered having to do. After picking to other rookie teams from Alberta to be our team, we then headed into finals. We only made it two games before being beaten an kicked out of the finals. During the final ceremonies we were awarded the Highest Seed Rookie Team of the Year Award, which put a cherry on top of a wonderful few days.
FIRST is an excellent contest that allowed me to explore my hobby for making things in a way I never thought I would be able to. So if you want to get involved ask around at your school and see if you can find any local sponsors. I would recommend it to anyone interested in engineering or programming, or even marketing.
******The answers to the Make to Learn Youth Contest***********
All members of the team are between 13-18
What we made:
We made a 95lbs robot capable of wireless communications and autonomous behavior. Our Robot, before the accident, was able to climb a large metal pyramid, hold and deliver Frisbees and the release them into the correct place. It was also able to interfere with the operation of other robots using a large net that would collect opponents frisbees and add them to our container. After the accident we were only able to climb the first rung and score frisbees during the autonomous time period.
How did we make it:
this was a very long and complicated build, but we are not very experienced robot builders, so our methods of construction were very simple. The base of the robot was constructed form aluminum "X" rails, and bolts. The top, before the accident, was made from plywood and a lazy Susan (cabinet) turntable. We used the tools in our schools wood shop primarily the table saw, drill, and manual saws. After the accident we turned to even simpler methods to re-build the robot, duck tape, zip ties, and some luck.
Were Did we Make It:
We built the Robot after school in our schools wood shop. We had some help at the very beginning at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Our re-build took place at the Olympic Oval at the University of Calgary.
What did I learn:
I can't speak for the rest of my team, but the amount of things I learned during this build could probably double the length of this already very long Instructable. So I will provide overviews of the skills I learned rather than details. I learned how to wire a robot: the way a laptop communicated with a wireless router, and the way a wireless router stores and transmits it's information to a processor on board the robot. I learned some basics of the Java programming language. I also leaned some important decision making and time management skills. Now I think I can speak for the whole team, we all made friends and leaned about team work, and a little about how large and helpful the FIRST community is, we also got to interact with university students and learn about post-secondary schooling options.
Thank you for reading (Sorry it's so long), if you liked it please leave a comment, rating, or a vote. -Lucas
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