Relic Recovery Brainstorming

FIRST-FTC-RelicRecovery17-18-Color-840x700We got our first glimpse of the 2017-2018 FIRST Tech Challenge game last night with a 30-second teaser video posted onto YouTube.

As soon as that video was posted, the speculation began on what the game would be. As an FTC coach, I have no access as to what the game will be ahead of time. The only information I have, beyond the teaser was released in e-mail communications to coaches and mentors.

On May 16th, we received an e-mail from FIRST with the following excerpt:

2017-2018 Season Game Update:
In preparation for the 2017-2018 season, we would like to advise our teams that the 2017-2018 game will not be using the beacon that has been used the past two seasons.

On May 18th, we received an e-mail from AndyMark with the following excerpt:

FIRST Tech Challenge Field Pre-Orders Available

Whether you're a veteran FIRST Tech Challenge team or dipping your toe in the water next year, one thing is certain: you're going to need field elements! We've been proud to supply official game fields for FTC for several years now, and we'll be doing it again with the 2017-2018 game, FIRST Relic Recovery!

Like last year, we're taking preorders for delivery in September; your field elements will arrive early in the week after the FIRST Tech Challenge Kickoff on September 9th.  This year, the game allows us to offer a quarter-field option in addition to the usual half-field and full-field options.  This means that you can have official field elements for practice starting at $150!

We've also got you covered with official soft tiles and field perimeters to create a full, official playing field. And you know we can't talk about FIRST Tech Challenge without mentioning the competition-proven NeveRest gearmotors and TileRunner drive system that makes it easy to get up and running with a top-notch drive system.

What is of most interest in the AndyMark e-mail is the 2nd sentence of the 2nd paragraph:

This year, the game allows us to offer a quarter-field option in addition to the usual half-field and full-field options.

This indicates, at least to me, that major scoring components are limited to each of the corners of the game field this year.

Guessing the Game

Here is the video that was posted on May 18th:

So, I have no real clue as to what to expect in the autonomous period. I am going to guess that there will be some set of tasks to complete in the mid-field area.

For the main portion of the game, I envision that each corner will have a pedestal for holding a single “relic” or multiples “relics” from a specific historic period. The relics will be “broken” into 2 to 4 parts and scattered on the center of the game floor. They are possibly placed or dropped there as part of an autonomous task.

The goal will be that teams must retrieve parts of a relic, assemble it, and place it onto the correct historical pedestal.

I am going to guess that more complex relics are worth more points or there may be lower, middle, and higher positions on each pedestal to place a single relic at a specified level.

For the end game, teams will likely have to “climb out” of the archaeological site by grabbing onto a cross bar placed somewhere on the field, possibly at mid-field.

Countdown Timer:

What do you think the game will be?

Robotics to FIS Career Fair

FIRST Tech Challenge

Today, I had the honor of taking several of my FTC 11242 team members to Ferris Intermediate School for its inaugural Career Fair! We were offered to chance to come over and present about careers in robotics and automation.

Part of our discussion centered around working on a team and interpersonal skills. I presented it to the 4th graders that we were working with in the context of playing soccer on the playground at recess. I also had a few team members speak to the challenges that were faced, but held it at an age-appropriate level.

Afterward, our discussion moved to careers in robotics and automation. We first looked at Amazon and the use of the Kiva Robotics systems in order fulfillment. We discussed how the old system was setup and how that compared to the new system and the jobs that is created.

nasa-curiosity-patchOur last discussion was centered around the NASA Curiosity Mars Exploration Rover. We discussed the problem presented in the NatGeo clip. In the presentation, I setup what was going on, but then had the participants sit in groups with the team members and work through brainstorming ideas for how the rover could traverse the rocks that were damaging the rover. The groups were given only 4 minutes to brainstorm.

When their time was up, we came back together and quickly presented the ideas. I then discussed with them that what they had just done was a brainstorming session – the same type of thing that NASA did when they discovered the problem.

In both of our presentations, we had 2 groups whose faces lit-up when they saw that the solution NASA ultimately used was the one they had come up with in the brainstorming session!

League Meet #2 – Lessons Learned

FIRST Tech ChallengeWe had our second league meet of the 2016/2017 season yesterday at the Ben Barber Career & Technology Academy in Mansfield, TX.

Team 11242 and our robot (Rufus) performed very well.

At the start of the meet, we were in 2nd place in the standings after only 1 league meet completed. At the end of the day, we slid to 3rd place for the season. However, we were tied with FTC Team 127 (Fighting Pickles) for qualifier points. Ultimately, the ranking points had to be used to break the tie – giving FTC 127 2nd place and FTC 11242 3rd place.

This meet was good as we got to see all 8 teams within the league. At the first league meet, 2 teams were unable to attend and 1 team had to forfeit at the event due to circumstances beyond their control.

Lessons Learned as an Event Coordinator
  • Do not generate the qualifier schedule until robot inspection is completed
    • We had 1 team (FTC 9582) who did not pass robot inspection but the schedule was already created and the first round of the contest already completed.
    • In this case, the team was allowed to compete, but had to remain powered-down and parked. They were “dead weight” for their alliance partners. However, they benefitted from having several strong alliance partners and did not finish in last place.
  • Do not change the order of the qualifier schedule once it’s compiled.
    • We had a few teams who wanted to make some last-minute adjustments to their robots before being called into the queueing area, where they are not allowed to make any changes to the robot. They asked if their rounds could be moved.
    • Once teams receive the qualifier schedule, they start staging resources based upon that schedule. For example, a team may choose to weight to do a quick repair on their robot knowing they are about to be off for a round or two and can move back to their pit.
  • A large screen for displaying the timers and scores is needed.
    • When we hosted the first league meet, we had this on a 21 inch monitor. This was too small.
    • I am going to secure a large projector screen and a projector for the league tournament.
  • The event coordinator does NOT need to be the emcee as well.
    • There are too many things going on at a tournament or meet that the event coordinator needs to manage and emcee duties can hinder this.
Lessons Learned in Regards to the Robot (from Students)
  • Watch for penalties! Use the timers when testing the robot in simulations.
    • We were hit with 2 major penalties during the day for crossing the center line of the field during the autonomous period before the first 10 seconds.
    • The first penalty would not have made a difference in winning or losing as we would have lost by 70 points as opposed to 110 points.
    • The second penalty made a H-U-G-E difference in the day. As opposed to losing by 20 points, we would have won by 20 points. In that round, we against the team we ultimately were tied with in the qualifier points tally. Had we not had that penalty, we would have finished the day in 1st place and been solidly in 2nd place for the season standings.
  • Don’t overcomplicate the game.
    • We have spent the majority of the season trying to determine how to effectively hit the button on the assigned half of the beacon during the autonomous period.
    • We realized the rules allow for an infinite number of button pushes during the autonomous mode.
    • So, we can drive up and just hit the beacon regardless of which button we hit or color we are assigned. We have a 50/50 shot of getting the correct color.
    • At this point, the color sensor will determine if the beacon is the correct color. If it is, we move on to the second beacon. If is isn’t we wait 5 seconds and just ram the beacon again. This will toggle the beacon to the other color.
    • If we have to change the color of the beacon, we’ll make sure to build in a check to verify the color before we move on to the second beacon.
  • A launcher for autonomous can’t be that hard to build.
    • We’ve been struggling to build a reliable intake and launching system for the small particles used in the game this year.
    • We’ve decided to just build a launcher. This will allow us to load 1 or 2 particles during autonomous to score points.
    • We’ll use a servo to push the balls into the correct position to be caught by the launching wheels.
    • These launches will occur at the start of the autonomous period while we are waiting to make sure we don’t get any penalties.
  • Servos stink at pushing beacon buttons.
    • The original design had called for servos to extend an actuator to push the beacon buttons.
    • Unfortunately, the beacon buttons are just a below the height of the game floor walls. As such, the actuator can actually get snagged on the wall.
    • When trying to break free, the servo horn is the weakest point in the system and typically fails. We have now lost two servos this way.
Lessons Learned in Regards to the Team (from Coach)
  • FTC 11242 is an outstanding team!
    • Our programming captain takes charge and can make on the fly changes to the program!
    • Our design and mechanical captain gets everything done on the robot that needs to be done and keeps us operational!
    • Our driver did an awesome job! He even saved another team who had gotten stuck on the base of the center vortex!
    • The members of the team support each other and showed the best of what Ferris has. I am very proud to be their coach!

League Meet #2 Matches

Here are the raw videos of the matches FTC11242 (ERROR 404) competed in at League Meet #2 earlier today.

Match 1 of 511242/9608 (BLUE) vs 11085/127 (RED)
WINNER: RED (141 to 35)

Match 2 of 59608/9402 (BLUE) vs 9582/11242 (RED)
WINNER: RED (60 to 10)

Match 3 of 59402/11242 (BLUE) vs 127/9609 (RED)
WINNER: RED (80 to 61)

Match 4 of 511242/11085 (BLUE) vs 9402/9402 (RED)
Winner: BLUE (76 to 15)

Match 5 of 59582/127 (BLUE) vs 11242/9403 (RED)
Winner: BLUE (90 to 40)

First League Meet is in the Books

FIRST Tech ChallengeWe just wrapped-up our first league meet of the FIRST Tech Challenge 2016/2017 season!

The Citrine League has 8 teams who are committed to participating in the 2016/2017 season coming from Erath (2 teams), Tarrant (2 teams), Dallas (1 team), Ellis (1 team), and Kaufman (2 teams) counties.

At the meet, we had 6 teams show with 1 team having to forfeit just before we got started.

FTC 11242 at League Meet #1
FTC 11242 at League Meet #1

Following 7 rounds of matches in the Velocity Vortex game of the season, FTC 11242 (Ferris High School) came out in 2nd place for the meet.

As this was the first meet of the season, the meet results are the current season rankings as well.

At the end of the day, the rankings broke-out as follows:

  • 1st Place – FTC 9609 (Kaufman High School) 10 QP / 47 RP
  • 2nd Place – FTC 11242 (Ferris High School) 4 QP / 56 RP
  • 3rd Place – FTC 9402 (Henderson Junior High School) 4 QP / 47 RP
  • 4th Place – FTC 9403 (Henderson Junior High School) 4 QP / 42 RP
  • 5th Place – FTC 127 (Ben Barber Career/Tech Academy) 2 QP / 56 RP

Unranked teams include the following:

  • FTC 9408 (Kaufman High School) 0 QP / 0 RP
  • FTC 9582 (DeSoto High School) 0 QP / 0 RP
  • FTC 11085 (Mansfield High School) 0 QP / 0 RP

All-in-all, the team and robot performed exceptionally well. I am very thankful for the volunteers who assisted me with successfully pulling this meet off.

Slipping Pinion Gear

We are using the AM-2964 NeveRest motors on our FTC robot this year. They have worked great for us until yesterday. One of our drive motors would only work going forward. Upon further examination, we realized that the motor would freely spin in reverse and would engage with the motor when going forward.

NeveRest AM-2964 with Gearbox Removed
NeveRest AM-2964 with Gearbox Removed

When the motor was stripped down, the pinion gear was found to be detached from the drive axle. The pinion gear only mounts to the axle in one direction. There is no flat surface or groove on the drive axle and no set screw on the pinion gear. It appears the the pinion gear on these motors is compression mounted on the drive axle.

Following the failure of this motor, we wrote it off as an isolated event. We mounted a new motor onto the robot and resumed testing. During the testing, our other drive motor suffered an identical failure. While the first motor that failed had nearly 20 hours of drive-time on it, the other motor had less than 5 minutes on it!

Short of using Loctite, I’m at a loss on how to secure this pinion gear to the drive axle. Has anyone else has this issue with the NeveRest motors from AndyMark? If so, how did you resolve it?

Almost Ready to Start!

We’re almost ready to start our robotics competition season. This Saturday, our first and only scrimmage of the season is set to be held out in Kaufman, TX.

Our season is full of 3 different league meets followed by a league championship and then a regional qualifier. All of these events carry us through 11-February-2017!

The regional qualifier is the first elimination event where our season can come to an end. If we advance, the next level will be the regional competition (Texas) which is then followed by the super-regional competition (11 southern states).

Most first-year coaches who have advanced to that level have compared it to that of a bug and a windshield. They have all said that the level of competition is so much greater than that at lower levels.

The final level of the contest is the world championship. Given that we are a rookie team, the statistics are not stacked in our favor for us to advance to this level. However, we will be pushing as hard as we can for as long as we can for the entire season.

Making Progress on Robot

We’re making progress on our robot! Speaking as a teacher, it was great seeing the look on my students’ faces when the robot jumped to life.

Our first scrimmage meet of the season is set for Saturday, 19-November-2016 at 8:00am at Kaufman High School.

While it may not yet be much to look at, it is driving in both a teleoperated and autonomous mode! Now, we can get to our actual build.

Our robot has made it for almost 8 hours of off/on driving over 3 school days on a single battery charge. During that same time, we dropped only one set screw and that was early on in the testing. Once it was tightened down, it has held with no problems.

We have had a few issues with the OTG cable between the core distribution module and the on-board phone. We’re in the process of replacing that with a micro-USB (male) to full-USB (female) that will then mate with a full-USB (male) to mini-USB (male). This will allow us to interface with the phone only having to interact with a full-size USB which we hope is more robust than the micro-USB we are working with now.

Android Studio Setup for FTC

Robotics Laptops Are Ready
Robotics Laptops Are Ready

Finally got around to setting up the FTC programming team laptops with Android Studio today. We’re using 4 HP EliteBook 840 laptops for programming and 1 HP EliteBook 840 for our design and mechanical team.

The plan is to setup all of the hardware to interface with Github for a common development repository for our FTC programming efforts. Obviously, the programming team will be working with this repository much more than the design and mechanical team will.

Once the laptops were ready, Android Studio was downloaded and installed. The installation went fairly smoothly. The SDK that was installed at this time was for Android 5.0 as this is what our driver station and on-board phones will be running.

Motorola G 2nd Generation

We’ll be running the Motorola G 2nd Generation as both our driver station and on-board phones.

We purchased them as part of the starter kit from PITSCO this year. After the ZTE Speed, the Moto-G 2nd Generation appears to be the next smallest volume phone. As we’ll be fighting for every cubic millimeter of space inside the robot, we need to go with the smallest hardware when possible.

Now, to find CAD files of this phone so my design and mechanical team can build a mounting system to hold this and an OTG cable inside the robot.