Updated: Feb 15, 2021
Written By: Raymond Tsui
Hi there! Raymond here. As you all know, I am a writer at Engineering Pathway. However, I am also an aspiring roboticist, being a former Hardware Design Captain (now mentor) of Fremont-based robotics team #16306 Incognito and current hardware design member of #9614 Hyperion. I partake in the FIRSTInspires FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competitions (FTC for short) Some of you might have heard of FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), the big sibling of FTC. Although significantly smaller in size (figuratively and literally), participating in the FTC challenge requires team members to exhibit great deals of sportsmanship, gracious professionalism, teamwork, and leadership skills.
Starting up in FTC is hard (but it pays off in the end)! Especially if the team is new to the program, or as we like to call it, “rookie”. The first problem we ran into was, well, finding people that are actually interested in the challenge. There are many STEM enthusiasts in the Bay Area and it’s generally easy to find like-minded people that are interested; however not many of them are ready for the amount of time commitment required. If you are considering starting a team, please take into account every member’s activity level. The second problem was acquiring enough funds to make the team function. Normally, robotics teams take around 5000 USD (or more) to operate. The cost may go up higher as the team progresses through the season (we ended up spending about 10K). By this point, members should be ready to do their best in the coming challenge.
If you don’t want to be in such a hassle, try contacting your local robotics team and ask if their applications are open!
As a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) member of my team, I am responsible for designing and prototyping models/jigs for the robot. CAD is especially important in FTC as you are able to visualize the assembly virtually without having to spend resources building it. This position requires me to rapidly prototype and improve my design until a favorable outcome is reached. Although this position is time-consuming and requires good visualization skills, I get to interact with the robot firsthand and be a key individual in the creation of the robot. I must also be aware of my other teammate’s ideas and try to implement them into CAD, as something that I design may not be the most optimal. One key issue to take into consideration is the ease of fabrication/assembly. I have, for some projects, accidentally made it so that it seemingly looks easy on CAD but impossible to build. That’s why a good CAD member must understand how the part will be built and how it would interact with other parts of the assembly.
One issue we ran into constantly is time management. Before a competition/meet, we would forget about the time and accidentally pull an all-nighter simply because of stress. Don’t do that. Once competition day really started, we found ourselves sleep deprived and unable to perform as optimal as we should. This is why time management skills are one of the best traits a member needs. Although staying up later to finish something may benefit you short-term, you will lose out on your ability to do the most important thing: present the robot. You can have a good robot with exceptional performance, but remember that YOU are the one controlling the robot and representing the team in the field. Remember, a bad driver can’t drive a sports car well, but a good driver can drive a dilapidated car just as fine. Having a bad robot doesn’t mean that your team is naturally bad -- it all depends on how you use it. Having a good strategy beats having a souped-up custom robot with LEDs.
Being a team member, I constantly face criticism and even belittlement from opposing teams. Part of the experience in a robotics competition is how well you deal with open criticism. I usually welcome feedback regardless of whether not it is positive or negative -- consider them! These criticisms are the main source of advice that can help you improve/innovate your design and be able to compete optimally. Feel free to comment and ask about other team’s designs -- I learned many tips and tricks just by poking around in the team pit!
I would love to say more, but articles like this are preferably kept short and concise. So, in conclusion, staying positive and showing gracious professionalism is one of key ingredients in making FTC one of the best experiences you’ll ever encounter. My experience may be slightly different from yours, but we all have a common goal -- to implement, innovate, and inspire.