Hello, and welcome to the Wired Wizards blog!
We are a team of 29 high school students who compete in the international FIRST Robotics Competition. This means that during a six week build season we meet 5+ times a week and build a robot. This year’s build season started last weekend on January 3rd, so we are hard at work.
If you are having trouble visualizing this, picture a travel sports team, but substitute a robot for a ball. We work as a team to fundraise, design, build, and market our robot. Our team can also be compared to a business since we have leadership roles, a budget, logo, website, and blog(!).
First, there’s kickoff.
At kickoff, we met at ECU along with other teams from Eastern North Carolina and learned what the game challenge was going to be in the 2015 season. Nobody except the FIRST game designers know what the game is going to be prior to kickoff, so there is much anticipation and speculation. We always have wishful thinking about water games or flying drones, but that hasn’t happened yet.
You can see the exact video that we and thousands of other FIRST teams saw at kickoff below. This video shows the game that we are currently designing a robot for.
After kickoff, there’s the build season.
We have six weeks to design and build a robot from start to finish. Although there are generally standard robot chassis, we do not work from a kit. Our robot design team analyzes the game, decides our team’s strategy to get the most points, and puts together plans for our robot. Then the mechanical team gets out their power tools and puts the robot together, and the programming team writes the code that makes the robot run. Meanwhile, the marketing and finance team make sure that we have enough money to fund the robot parts, competition entrance fee, and travel costs. They also run the website, blog(!), social media, and outreach.
The last day of the build season is called “Stop Build Day.”
Once the six week build season is completed, we are not allowed to touch the robot any more. Every FIRST robotics team across the world puts down their tools at the same time to make sure that nobody has an unfair advantage.
Finally, it’s time to go to competition!
The competitions are the culmination of the entire FIRST robotics season. We go to the competition in Raleigh at NC State’s Dorton Arena, and it’s the biggest gathering of geeks on this side of the Mississippi (besides all the other robot competitions, of course). At the competition last year, there were 55 teams of 10 to 50 students each, and that doesn’t even count the parents, mentors, FIRST volunteers, and fans. There is always great music playing (our DJ is really good), tons of bright neon colors, team mascots, and robots.
If you ever have the opportunity to go to a competition, you will also see buttons pinned to people’s shirts. Teams make cool buttons with their logo or name and throughout the competition buttons are swapped. Some people get so many buttons that they create a chain mail layer of buttons on their shirts and pants.
Then that year’s season is over and we prepare for the next season.
After the build season and competition is over, we are super duper tired. Although being on a robotics team is fun, it’s also a lot of hard work. We students and our amazing mentors and coaches put in over a thousand hours each during the season, our parents kindly chaperone us to meetings, and our generous sponsors allow us to make our team’s visions a reality. As FIRSTers like to say “it’s the hardest fun you’ll ever have.”