Permanence in Change

Posted: January 12, 2015 in Fridge Note, It's not the heat, it's the humanity, Shovels, Uncategorized

Two posts in [one] two days, guinea pigs.  Manic depressive disorder is no joke, kidzos….

But we had a great day of robotics on Saturday and robot-building zombie must share.

For the second straight year, we had the first week of Build Season disrupted by scary-cold, dangerous-cold weather.  School was closed for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  Ouch.  three days during the first week of a six week project.  Well, THAT makes things easier….

I remember a couple of years back, when we had a dipshit, disruptive mentor who suggested we ask the FIRST organization for allowance to extend our build season accordingly.  Amazingly, somehow I resisted mocking him ridiculously -“Yeah, like a client ever gives you an extension because you’re too damn wimpy to get to work while it’s CHILLY”

However, when I got to the school and saw the gaggle of teens standing out in the cold (including one whackaloon who rode his bike in 10 inches of snow) I made an audible and we re-convened at our house, even if it was just to get them out of the cold.  And after a little robot review, much email, Facebook, and phone discussions, we relocated again to the nearby Urban Ecology Center, which is one of the coolest things that exists in Milwaukee (check it out) and is three blocks from my house and have a lovely building designed by the son of one of my neighbors.  While there, we discussed how great the space is, and we think we may do much more of our initial design there next year….

This year, we may be a little short on money, but we have managed to add several great mentors with a great mix of skills.  A couple of them grew up with other FRC teams, including one from Team 64 (if you know anything about FRC, the lower the team number, the longer they have been active.  For comparison, our team is 2830, and the current rookie teams are over 5000)

We finalized team and robot strategy and broke into sub-system teams.  We finalized the drive train, ordered parts, worked out sub-system design concepts, and got all the kids involved.  It was a great space, and we were easily able to work in a big group and break into sub-groups and the staff at the UEC were accommodating in every way.

Two of our mentors and one of our veteran students spent much time on computers, analyzing drive trains, gearing ratios, and laying out the primary parts of the drive train system on PTC Creo.  In case your interested, we will be using Mecanum wheels driven by CIM motors resulting in ± 10 fps maximum speed.  The system that will lift and place game pieces, inventively called The Elevator, will run at a maximum of 3 fps. FWIW, the mechanism that grasps and controls the game pieces is named The Chuck, after one of our mentors.

IMG_1926 IMG_1928nanotube clearance (dragged) 1 nanotube clearance (dragged)


The addition of new mentors is so important, because we have taken some huge strides as a team in the last couple of years, and the new folks allow us to continue to do break into new grounds – I think the coolest things for mentors is the ability to do new things they don’t get the opportunity to do in the Klark Kent life.  One of the very skilled engineer-mentors who is a Principal Engineer (of which there are a very small handful in his company which I will not name but which rhymes with Shee-Mee) says that his work on the Robotics team allows him to learn some of the higher-end abilities of the modeling software (I hesitate to call it CAD anymore, because any reasonably functional professional level is inherently 3D) and that makes his daily work  more effective.

But I digress, and I trust all of you are COMPLETELY DAMN SURPRISED.  Anyway, with the additional new students and new mentors (but for which we are still tragically underfunded) are:

-evolving sophistication in controls and programming.  We are transitioning from LabView to Java, as well as planning on using Field Orientation drive programming (which means that the drive team will not have to constantly try to mentally reverse the actions of our controllers when the robot is turned 180 degrees.  Especially important when we are using Mecanum wheels which allow 360 degree spins…

-higher involvement in planning and design using 3D modeling.  Since I am driving this, it is happening, we are going from ACad Inventor which is hardly used in industry and going to PTC Creo which IS an industry standard tool.  Remembering, of course, that part of this program is to give high school students some skills that are industry-appropriate.

-dedicated mentor involvement in driving students to involvement in fundraising and writing of Awards submissions, grant requests, and creation of videos and graphics.

-inclusion of programmed LED lighting in the presentation and operation of the Robot.

-Design for maintenance:  components and electronics designed to allow repair and maintenance during the harsh environment of competitions.  Part of this feeds back into the design and engineering of the drive train and chassis (during the first couple of seasons, broken chains and stripped gears were a bane.  The first year I worked with the team, these issues were massively reduced; in the last couple of years, they have been eliminated.  In the very limited amount of time available in Pit between matches, any time needed to repair or maintain drive train is time we can’t address other issues.)

-Moving into the Elite Eight.  The teams that in the top rankings, who will be selecting their partners for the playoffs.  We have heard from other teams that our last season has established our team as a contender and a good Alliance partner. We want to make that next step as a top competitive team.

-related to the above, establishment of a Scouting Paradigm.  If WHEN we make the top 8, we will need to know which teams will best complement our team.  We will need a significant number of teams watching from the stands and interviewing the pit crews to know what selections we need to make on Saturday afternoon.  even if we don’t make that day, we need to know which teams we want to partner up with, and make our case to their scouting teams as the Qualification rounds go by.

– a GREAT looking robot.  As a primary mentor, I have a somewhat different POV than many of the engineers.  Engineers, by their inclination are primarily interested in function, and rightly so; my daily work would not be possible with engineers who make it stand up; but on the flip side, it would like shit if that was the only consideration.  And since my involvement, we have stepped up considerably in making our robot look like it is serious and here is the most recent result:

tech info card

A lecture I attended, the leader said that part of scouting was having a robot that looked good and was thus memorable.  In another presentation,  longtime mentor said that the appearance of the robot had an impact; if the robot looked like shit, performance didn’t matter, because everybody figured that if you couldn’t bother with Fit And Finish, they wondered what other systems you didn’t give a shit about, and avoided those robots in Selections.

At the Midwest regional in Chicago, we managed several milestones.  For me, one of the best was when other drive teams would come up to us in advance of matches, and they would say things like “We love your robot!  We are so excited to be on your alliance!” and which it was hard NOT to respond with ” do you realize that a few weeks ago at the Wisconsin Regional, we placed 57 out of 60?”

We’re not a great team.  But we have reached the point that we are competitive team.  The teams that mentored our team, 537 and 1675, have come to view us as peers.

But the best thing is that we have an EXCELLENT group of mentors that encompass a huge amount of skillsets, and even more points of view; and we disagree about almost everything.  And then we show how you work through disagreements and still make decisions (as one mentor said after a particularly long, involved, and non-productive session that nearly made me take a hostage) and then move forward.

I imagine that, sometime in the future, these kids are in a planning session and suddenly they recognize that they first learned this shit in that basement room at Riverside University High School.

And, right now, the kids DON’T EVEN REALIZE that this is the thing we are teaching them…


  1. Seems to me with all those wireless interfaces you should be able to add an Electronic Warfare component reduce the performance of the opposition and increase your own chances. And think of the powerful life lesson THAT would offer…

Go ahead, tell me how I fucked up this time.

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