New Opportunities in Robotics

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September 8th marked the kickoff event for First Tech Challenge (FTC) and the official start of this year’s new robotics team. The founders include two seniors, Adam Pooley and Colby Newman. Paul Sollee, chief technology officer, sponsors the team.


  Our new robotics team is participating in the global FTC/FIRST program. FIRST, the organization’s acronym of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is dedicated to designing and hosting robotics events and competitions for students.


  FTC is a subcategory of the FIRST program that involves real motors; metal construction elements that require tools such as screwdrivers, drills, etc.; and which uses Java-based programming in Android Studio.

  For two years, the Bartram campus had both a First Lego League (FLL) and FTC, hosted by Mark Meyers, the middle school robotics teacher. Before that, Ms. Wood, the Instructional Technology Specialist and Robotics Teacher, hosted a FLL team in 2005 and 2006, as well as in 2013 and 2014 for the middle school. FLL utilizes block-based programming and EV3 lego components.


  For a few years, different middle schoolers have tried to start a team after moving up to highschool. After several attempts, we now have an upper school FTC Robotics Team.


  The team is currently split into two separate groups, and each will be competing in FTC events as separate teams; team Patent Pending and team Voyagers. Pooley and Newman said that the group decided to do this to help promote friendly competition, keep the teams at a manageable size, and make learning and communicating with one another easier.

Each year, a new theme is chosen for the FIRST program and a new field is designed. The field is made up of different obstacles and challenges, and is where the robots compete. Each task the robots complete in the field earns a different amount of points.


  It was already public knowledge that the theme for this year is Space Exploration. However, prior to the kickoff event, this year’s

competition field had yet to be revealed.


  Everyone there was eager to find out what the tasks of the challenge were, and to start coming up with new concepts and ideas for this year’s robots.


  While our local kickoff event was hosted by San Jose Preparatory, the main FLorida event was actually hosted at the Kennedy Space Center, in line with the theme. A live video broadcast of this was screened at the kickoff; over this live stream, the Florida House of Representatives member, Thad Altman, spoke about the importance of robotics,


“We need robots. Robots are what is making human exploration possible… Robots can go and lead the way.”


– Thad Altman


  Mark McCombs, founder of Renaissance Jax, was also present at the Kennedy Space Center, and has been a driving founder of FIRST in north Florida. Renaissance Jax is another great resource for those interested in Robotics, as it offers aid to those building robots, as well as educational and fun summer camps.


  Although the teams are still in their infancy, the excitement and eagerness of the team members could be felt at the kickoff.


At 12:00, the field was finally revealed.


  This year’s field consists of several possible tasks, with many of them being oriented around the centerpiece, or lander. For example, it offers points to the robots that can pull themselves up off the ground by a hook attached to the lander’s side, and the spheres and cubes seen in the corner craters of the field offer points for throwing them into the lander. There are of course many other elements and tasks to complete, and a full guide can be found on the FIRST website.


  Patent Pending and Voyagers immediately started designing

and working on concept sketches. People inspected the field, took measurements, and had good-hearted debates over ideas. Original concept sketches were doodled and debated; the advantages of a claw versus a hook, a scoop, and everything in between. People bounced ideas off of one another and and offered constructive criticism.


  FTC is special in that although Robotics are at its core, it also focuses on cooperation, team building, and learning from colleagues and mentors, while encouraging independent growth.


  This year’s teams seem ready and up for the challenge.




  Soon after the field was revealed, McCombs unveiled another new project: the greater implementation of internship and scholarship aid. FIRST has been around for nearly 30 years, and has earned quite a reputation in it’s time. Particularly recently, FIRST has become more dedicated to aiding FIRST alumni, and now provides more accessible resources to help find internship opportunities, and offers over $80 million dollars in scholarships each year.


  Alejandro Lepervanche, who works for the biomedical software company, Medtronic Inc, and who also works as software tech help at FTC events, has seen for himself how FIRST helps open doors and offers great opportunities for those interested in fields such as robotics.


  Lepervanche describes two students who obtained paid research and development internships at Medtronic, and the company’s view on FIRST alumni,


“The first students we [Medtronic] got were FIRST alumni. They blew minds… They [Medtronic] have totally reevaluated FIRST… They’re like, woah, let’s throw money at that. Let’s make more internships, let’s look for that in resumes.”


– Alejandro Lepervanche