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Education Robotics Hardware

2013 FIRST Robotics Competition Kicks Off 64

theodp writes "Saturday, the 2013 FIRST Robotics Competition kicked off, and — much like the Pinewood Derby — mentoring by adult engineers there doesn't hurt one's chances of winning. So, any advice for 'ordinary' high schools going up against the likes of FIRST Robotics Teams sponsored and mentored by NASA? FIRST Robotics Team 254's Lab at NASA Ames Research Center, for instance, includes 'an 80% size practice field as well as a small machine shop, workspace, computer lab and meeting space.' Not surprisingly, Team 254 won the 2011 FIRST Championship." We took our camera to the Michigan FRC championships last year, and had a great time.
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2013 FIRST Robotics Competition Kicks Off

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  • Get Craig Charles to present and maybe it'll be more of a hit.. Heck I'd watch it then :)

  • Any robotics competition is interesting - but why don't we hear more about them on slashdot? The last mention of a competition was last year ... Skills Canada [skillsontario.com] has a similar, yearly competition and has included robotics as a category for quite some time (Up here, it's been going on since 1995).

    In fact, it looks like there are 26 different competitions [wikipedia.org] that students can enter, per year ... though the geographic restrictions may limit individual participation.
    • We don't hear about other competitions because...
      A. They weren't founded by recognizable name like Dean Kamen
      B. They don't have over 50,000 international participants
      C. They don't hand out $16 million in scholarships
      D. They haven't been around for 20+ years
      E. They aren't based in the USA, which is where the majority of Slashdot's readership is located

      I'm not saying we shouldn't have coverage of other robotics competitions, I'm just saying there are reasons we hear about this one in particular.

    • by rmelton ( 165795 )

      I think the http://firstlegoleague.org/ [firstlegoleague.org] robotics for younger kids is a great program. I have helped judge the local event for the past 5 years and have seen first hand the enthusiasm and creativity in the kids. I think that the younger you can get them interested science/technology/building/creating the better!

      • by ediron2 ( 246908 )

        Second year of mentoring a team, same impression. The science/engineering attractive power of this low-budget league amazes me.

    • by Firehed ( 942385 )

      FIRST is international, but most of the teams are US-based. Every regional competition I've attended has teams from Canada, Mexico, and at least one other continent - often two or three (Australia, Europe, South America)

  • Serious advice (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2013 @08:24AM (#42503515)

    The first piece of advice: The point of the contest isn't to win, it's to have fun and learn stuff. Yes, just like in the pinewood derby, having dad build the thing means you're more likely to win the trophy; it also means you're less likely to win and have fun... So make sure that your mentors are mentoring, not doing the work for you.

    The second piece of advice: NASA isn't the only place that has smart engineers. There are plenty of small engineering companies in the world; take a look around and find one! Even pretty small towns are likely to have some civil engineers or mechanical engineers...

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      The second piece of advice: NASA isn't the only place that has smart engineers. There are plenty of small engineering companies in the world; take a look around and find one! Even pretty small towns are likely to have some civil engineers or mechanical engineers...

      Third piece of advice: I know lots of engineers. I only know a few smart ones. Figure out who those smart ones are.

      • Sorry you got modded a troll, but I know you are correct.

        Most people think FIRST is about encouraging science and education, after all that is what the tell the sheep. But in reality it is about Northrop-Grumman avoiding hiring 12 engineers to find the 1 smartest. By using things like FIRST to find the 1 best, they can avoid the overhead.

        FIRST has nothing to do with Robots, it is electrical and mechanical engineering. Using Robot in the name is just another trick to get the public to go along with it.

        I g
        • by Firehed ( 942385 )

          You were a part of a team with qualities that wasn't in line with FIRST, if that's an accurate description of your experience.

          While it's definitely true that there are teams where the mentors do all of the hard work (I've met some, and they tend to be looked down upon by the rest of the community), most of the teams actually have mentors being mentors and let the students run the show. But it's important to have volunteers that will police each other about doing too much - having an actual teacher as a ment

          • by ediron2 ( 246908 )

            An old boy scout leader friend once called himself a ponderosa pine: a big tree, offering shelter and somewhere to lean. As a type-A nerd, it's one of my toughest lessons, to step back and make the kids do all the work. To ask good leading questions, or explain an engineering concept succinctly in a tangent. To keep them from hurting themselves. To praise good hacker insights, or doggedness.

        • by ediron2 ( 246908 )

          Think I replied to you elsewhere, said you didn't know shit. From here, I can see it ain't that you're ignorant... you've just been burned. My apologies.

          I completely get where you're coming from. Any championship starts to get burdened with side values/costs, whether it's olympics or these sorts of academic leagues or even amateur sports. It's the golden rule, in reverse: Money corrupts, more money corrupts things more. Maybe I'm lucky: my kids are so far down the damn well that merely qualifying for s

    • Some more serious advice:
      1. Remember you're competing as an alliance, not a single team. I didn't see anything mentioning if the alliances are created by participants, will be predetermined before the competition or randomly selected at the time of the event. Synergy between your bot and those of your alliance members could overcome opponents who build and function as individual bots instead of alliance members.
      2. Don't do the same thing as everybody else. You've got to get crazy in your ideas. If you w

  • by CharlieG ( 34950 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @08:41AM (#42503595) Homepage

    Making sponsor relationships is a big deal, as their time does not count towards your budget. Expect to work long hours. Find a mech eng to help.
    Most important thing? Let he kids do the work and have fun. Our mentor team probably could have had a robot built already, or close (4 pro programmers, a ME, a machinist, an EE) but we let the kids design and build, we teach software design, how to use the shop, and act as a safety team.

    Dropping the kit of parts to the school thisAM
    Go Fe Maidens 2265 and SciBorgs 1155

  • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @09:09AM (#42503751)

    I glanced at the PR stuff and was pleased to see its not a stereotypical "robot" = "homemade RC car with weapons destroys another homemade RC car with weapons". Apparently something about getting disks into goals, I assume as close as they can get to calling it Hockey without violating trademarks and patents. Does anyone know if its basically "homemade RC cars that play hockey" or are the robots autonomous? An autonomous robot competition would be more complicated, but much more interesting. The only autonomous competition I can remember is that "drive across the desert" thing from years back. Not that there's anything wrong with homemade RC cars.

    • by DrEasy ( 559739 )
      There's also RoboCup [robocup.org]: autonomous robots playing soccer.
      • by vlm ( 69642 )

        Now that's real robotics! That I would attend, or sponsor, or mentor, or at least like to read about. One minor problem is the only three events on the web page for 2013 are in Germany, Netherlands, and Iran. More to come, hopefully.

    • by hamjudo ( 64140 )
      The first 15 seconds of each match are autonomous and the goals are worth twice as much. The remaining 2 minutes of each match are teleoperated.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      The youtube video in the linked story explains the game pretty well. It starts as an autonomous competition, with double points for any goals during that time. Then teams are allowed to take control. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itHNW2OFr4Y [youtube.com]

    • by RPI Geek ( 640282 ) on Monday January 07, 2013 @09:49AM (#42504047) Journal
      This year the goal is to throw flying discs (frisbees) through goals of different heights (both in the sense of how high off the ground they are and how tall they are), and to get bonus points (awarded after the 2:15 match time runs out) by climbing a pyramid of bars (kind of like monkey bars on a playground, but a pyramid). The robots can weigh as much as 120#. Click here [youtube.com] or look on YouTube for Ultimate Ascent.

      On the topic of autonomous robots, the first 15 seconds of each match ARE autonomous! The thing is that each team (of high schoolers) is given 6 weeks from learning the rules of the game to design, build, write code for, and test their robot. Asking a team (which could have as few as 3 or 4 mentors and 5 high schoolers) to do that, and make the robot autonomous, is just asking too much. Even the bigger teams (I mentor for Team 250 - The Dynamos - and I am one of about 20 mentors and there are a few dozen students) have a hard enough time making the robot functional.

      Lastly, it is very much against the spirit of FIRST to intentionally damage the other teams' robot; doing so will get you penalized and maybe even disqualified from the match. That doesn't mean no pushing and shoving though - playing defense is a valid strategy, but the game rules are designed to prevent damaging the other bots. In fact there are two term that are used widely in FIRST, gracious professionalism and coopertition. It is a common sight at competitions to see a team with a broken robot (either smoke pouring out or it just doesn't work) and people from other teams giving them parts, advice, and labor to get them back on the field.
      • by Ksevio ( 865461 )
        Continuing on the subject of autonomy - It's an area that basically requires miany more sensors/inputs (can bring up the costs quite a bit) and pushes a lot more time into the software, most of which can only be done after the robot is fully functional. If the challenge was the same every year (like playing soccer), then it would be reasonable to have fully autonomous or longer autonomous sessions, but as it is, the engineering/design of the robot is more interesting, so no one wants to see the super cleve
        • by vlm ( 69642 )

          It's an area that basically requires miany more sensors/inputs

          Well now autonomy is a tricky thing. For a car analogy you can design a unlimited F1 like competition where only world class engineering companies can compete with millions of bucks, lets say bipedal team of hydraulic/pneumatic robots playing soccer. You can also design a competition where kids, or not much more advanced than kids, can actually compete, like maybe a tabletop maze runner, maybe a somewhat simplified air-hockey table rig, maybe a "fire fighting robot" with a squirt gun trying to hit a candl

          • by Ksevio ( 865461 )
            It's probably in part due to Dean Kamen's influence - the man who made the segway and other mobility devices. The competition pushes more of the mechanical portion of robotics rather than the software. There are other competitions that focus on other areas, but I'm sure the fun of getting to drive around a robot attracts a lot of people (personally I prefer seeing a creation handle itself). The younger FIRST with legos does a bit more autonomous actions (though even there it was usually "drive forwards u
      • by CharlieG ( 34950 )

        Yep, we cracked a wheel last year, and another team handed us one. At hte same time, we were handing a motor to another team.

        Our all Girls team (we have 2)
        http://www.drivelikeagirlfilm.com/ [drivelikeagirlfilm.com]

    • FIRST has never been about weaponry, but rather rewards good engineering and creative problem-solving. Its goal has always been to encourage kids to get excited about technology and engineering.

      The guy who started it, Dean Kamen, is a prolific inventor (including wheelchairs that can climb stairs, the Segway PT, some medical devices, water purification pumps, and is now working on solar panel improvements), but has had a significant interest in science education throughout his career. Before he started FIRS

      • by vlm ( 69642 )

        FIRST has never been about weaponry

        OK OK in my defense I used to subscribe to "Servo" magazine in the 00s and back then "robot competition" was almost exclusively homemade weaponized RC cars with the exception of once (ONCE) I heard about some firefighting robot competition. So either FIRST began well after that era of "psuedo-robotics", or the scene overall has completely changed to pacifism, or Servo was intentionally not covering FIRST or whatever. I'm trying to report what I heard in the past with my ear to the ground, not rewrite hist

        • by ediron2 ( 246908 )

          You're reporting what you remembered from your ear to the ground? WTF, doesn't google and wikipedia work where you are?! Did you attend a single FIRST contest? What about the junior or Lego FIRST leagues?

          Thanks for admitting you were doing the usual slashdot thing of just spouting off random unsubstantiated b.s., but please... your rant is what is being discussed. You somewhat pwned the conversation with your imagined warrior killer-bot claims.

          I'm still reading the thread, but haven't seen mention of FI

  • Getting mentors that have engineering or shop skills (and equipment) is important, but frequently overlooked or undervalued is getting a mentor that knows how to talk to kids and get them organized and working as a team. I'm sure there are plenty of engineers that can do that, though its not the most common set of soft skills in a highly technical person. A teacher or a coach that can help the kids break down the competition, prioritize, divide up tasks, help kids identify their strengths and weaknesses as
  • I'm a FIRST Robotics judge for one of their regional competitions. After looking at this year's game, it seems to me that there will be frisbees flying all over the place. This is my 2nd year judging. Any good questions I you all think I should ask the kids?
  • Out here the highschool team is pretty interesting and wins many competitions, though I haven't been out there. I know they have sponsorship from a couple of big engineering outfits, but it seems that they practice their work and learn quite a bit. http://www.robowranglers148.com/ [robowranglers148.com]

    Taking a que from most all human endeavors (sports, music, etc), it would seem that testing, prototyping and practice are key elements. You need lots of time, material, and a coach that fosters talent from the whole team. Depen

  • Having participated in FIRST myself during my high school years, our team was lead by a local University, 2 engineers from a locally based (but still large enough to be middling on the Fortune 500 list...) company, and in my first year, we won the championship in the early 2000s, and have since then won a few more times after I left.
    It's an amazingly fun experience, and besides, as a HS student, this should be more of a learning experience for you. It's great to see the whole engineering process, from pro
  • The object of the game (and I know it sounds cheezy) is not to win, its to learn. When I was a student, the mentors let US do the programming, designing, etc. While the robot wasn't as good as the adviser-bots; when your in the pit and YOU'RE working on the robot...well I wouldn't have traded it for anything in the world. You might not have a full practice field (hell I don't think we ever had the robot WORKING in time to practice anything!), but it really is fun no matter what place you finish in.

    Now as

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