The Engineering Branch is in charge of everything to do with robots: designing, building, maintaining, programming, and driving. They work mainly out of our school’s metal shop and make sure it is kept in good repair.
Our school is the last in our district and one of the last in southern California to have fully functioning metal, wood and auto shops. They are one of our teams greatest assets, equipped with a CNC machine, a CNC plasma cutter, a laser cutter, lathes, mills, and a 3D printer. Being able to have experience machining the parts we design allows us to better understand how to design realistic parts. To allow other FRC teams to experience the thrill of hands-on manufacturing, we hold Open Shop Hours during build season. We are looking to continue to expand this program to allow more teams to manufacture. To find out about upcoming Open Shop Hours, contact our Engineering President.
For our team, Preseason is from August (when school starts) to the beginning of January (Kickoff). During this time we work on teaching rookies useful skills for build season.
Before you can be an official member of the team you must complete our Shop Safety Seminar with our metal shop teacher Mr. Berend and then take the metal shop safety test. This is typically done during the first few weeks of September. If you join the team later, talk with our Build President about when you can take the safety test.
Engineering Geared Learning starts in early October and ends in mid-December. This program is focused around building a robot to compete in a FIRST FRC-like game of our teams creation called FoosBot. Meeting 2-3 times a week, a veteran student guides a group of 4 rookies through a mock of build season. First, they begin by analyzing the game FoosBot before going into the designing process, where they are taught the basics of the CAD design software, SolidWorks. They then move into the build, using VEX parts and a unique 3D part of their own invention to create their robot. After this, they are taught the basics of programing and finally get time to practice driving their robot.
The Geared Learning Competition is a 1 day event where the different teams compete in the FoosBot game. In a round-robin style competition, alliances of 2 team compete against an alliance of 2 other teams. This exciting conclusion of Geared Learning helps our rookies spread their wings and become fully-fledged Paradoxians.
We began holding coding classes on Mondays (3:45-5:00) from the last week of September until Build season begins. These classes are for beginners and start off with the very basics of programming before getting progressively more advanced. They are run by our Head programmer and our award-winning mentor John Gaby. We invite any SDA students to take these classes if they are interested in programming whether or not they want to be on the team. The classes focus on the programming language C++. See more at http://robotics.gabysoft.com/ under Robot Programming.
The FRC Build Season starts at the beginning of January (January 9th this year) and continues into the end of February (February 23rd this year). During this time, teams must design, manufacture, and code a fully functioning robot to compete in the year's game.
Kickoff marks the start of the 6 week build season. This year, we ran the North Country Kickoff at ViaSat which 14 FRC teams attended. Teams gathered in one of two castle alliance themed rooms where they watched the game release video and received their Kit of Parts before viewing half of a game field. After this event, we returned to our school and held our Team’s Kickoff event. There, we broke into groups to analyze the 111 page rule book before beginning to develop and compare strategies for the game. The next day, we started discussing which mechanisms would work best with which strategy. At the end of our two day Kickoff experience, we know our strategy and have basic ideas for mechanisms. Kickoff brings the entire team together as we wait in anticipation for the game reveal.
Prototyping happens during the first week of Build Season and ranges from drawings to CAD models to physical wooden prototypes. This year, we focused our designing energy on shooters and manipulators, but many other ideas were also thrown around. After initial sketches, individuals and small groups of students work on creating proof of concept models. The prototyping phase is always filled with creativity and excitement, making it many student’s favorite part of build season.
Before prototyping finishes, students begin to work on the chassis, initiating the beginning of the build process. This year, we split up the build into three categories: the chassis, the shooter, and the intake. During this time, we create two robots: first, a practice robot to work out the bugs and give the drive team something to practice with, and second, our official competition robot. In order to keep organized during this busy time, we use a program called Playbook, that we are beta-testing for our sponsor, to help manage our time. Inspired by this, we also decided to hold team huddles every other day. During these huddles, members of the Engineering Branch go over the agenda for the next two days and divide up jobs among team members. The Build Process is the longest part of build season, but it pays off when we finally see the finished product.
Our programing team, built up from Monday classes, is in charge of making our robot move. Historically, we have always attempted to create an autonomous mode and have had varying degrees of success. The team starts programing as soon as the practice robot is finished and then they make the final touches to the code once the actual robot is finished. The programming team always puts in the last-minute effort to make sure the robot runs smoothly, and their efforts are vastly appreciated by the rest of the team.
‘Bag and Tag’ day is the last day of our 6 week build season (February 23rd this year). On this day we make any final changes and/or preparations for competition, in addition to getting in last minute driving practice. Then, we ‘Bag and Tag’ our robot, which is literally putting it in a giant bag and sealing it with an official FIRST zip tie. Afterwards, we celebrate with root beer floats and head home filled with relief that building season is over and excitement for competition.
A Regional Competition, or simply Competition, is where teams showcase all of their hard work. Competition is a 3 day event, typically over Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Thursday is full of practice matches and the event is not open to the public. Friday and the beginning of Saturday are qualification matches, done in a round-robin-style. Lastly, the second half of Saturday is the Finals Matches, where teams form permanent alliances and compete to be Regional Champions. Friday and Saturday are open to the public. Competition season is from the beginning of March to early April. We typically go to two Regional Competitions. One is always the San Diego Regional Competition and one other is an “away” regional. In the past we have gone to Las Vegas, Madera, and Ervine. If a team wins at a Regional Competition, they move on to Championships in St. Louis.
Our pit crew is made up of 4-5 people. They represent a fraction of the people who worked on the robot and are chosen for their knowledge of the robot and skills at making quick improvised fixes when the robot breaks down. We know we’ve made a good robot when our pit crew is bored.
The Drive Team is in charge of driving the robot during competition. This year we decided to stick with one primary Drive Team and a second Drive Team to serve as backup. Drive team starts practice with a simple chassis before build season even starts, and then picks up practice once the practice competition robot is finished. The FIRST FRC drive team consists of four members: two Drivers, one Coach and one Human Player. The role of the Human Player varies depending on the game, but usually involves providing the robot with objects to stack or shoot and signaling to the Drivers. The Drivers are split into Driver 1 and Driver 2, where Driver 1 is the main controller of the robot and Driver 2 does additional tasks like firing. The Coach’s job is to watch the entire field and give the Drivers advice. Drive is a high stake position where the fate of the team rests on their shoulders, full of pressure and excitement being on drive team is a highly sought-after role.
The Scouting Team ‘scouts’ out teams for possible alliances during competition. The Scouting Team typically consists of 7 people, one for each of the six robots on the field at a time and one head scout. While the robots compete, scouts use a simple checklist system to evaluate their capabilities. For example, if a robot was able to get over a certain defense, then the scout watching that robot would put a checkmark next to that defence signalling that the task was completed successfully. Whereas if the robot was unable to pass that obstacle the scout would put an X signaling that the robot was unable to conquer it. Scouting meetings begin as soon as the game is released. During these prospecting drive team members work together to create a scouting sheet for current year's game.
Since we are a year around team, we are constantly creating. During the summer, the Engineering Branch keeps busy with a variety of summer projects and teaches classes to incoming freshmen.
During the summer, we encourage creativity as students come up with fun projects to make. What these projects are vary greatly from student to student and year to year. In the past, team members have worked to create a swerve drive, improved designs of previous robots, and develop the Geared Learning program.
Classes began in late July or early August and continue to the start of the school year. Held at our school, they are for incoming Freshmen and are taught by veteran team members. Each class is designed with an entirely self contained curriculum and classes are repeated. The main focuses are beginner-level machining, programming, and CAD design with SolidWorks. Contact our Engineering President if you have any questions about these classes.