The 16th annual FIRST Robotics Competition, held this year in Atlanta, GA, featured a challenge called "Rack 'N' Roll" in which two alliances of three high school teams each went head to head to try and place as many inner tubes, called "ringers," as possible on the arms of a center structure rack. The matches, held on four fields set up in Atlanta's Georgia Dome, were 2 min long, with a 15 sec autonomous challenge at the start of each match.
Watch the video below to see FRC robots in action!
In the six weeks leading up to the competition, FIRST teams needed to make strategic and focused decisions on the makeup and functionality of their robots. Team 66 from Willow Run High School in Ypsilanti, MI is in its 9th year, but that didn’t make dealing with a thick book of regulations and a meticulous inspection process any easier. “That first Saturday after New Year’s is a tense one,” says Travis Greer, a senior at Willow Run and director of management for the team. “Six weeks is not a long time to build a robot and we work very hard to build the best machine we can in such a small window of time.”
Team 66 has been sponsored by GM Powertrain Willow Run since the team's formation in 1998. The partnership gives the team access to priceless tools, CNC equipment and floor time. “The students are in there usually three to five times a week, for at least three hours each time,” says David Barnaby, controls engineering department supervisor at the plant. “They spend most of their time planning and then carrying out their designs in this facility.” What’s more, GM allows Barnaby and other mentors, including toolmakers Mike Dahl and Rick LaCourciere and electrician/computer programmer Tim Micallef, to work on the project full time with Team 66 for the six-week build period. “It’s really great to be able to make the tools and resources so accessible to the students,” says Dahl.
Shareef Ghanem, a junior at San Ramon Valley High School and member of the Ragin’ C-Biscuits, FIRST Team 1280, says having a student who knew 3D CAD software Autodesk Inventor well on his team really helped them out in the design process. “We wanted to make our robot as big as we could, and Inventor helped us design accurately according to height and weight,” he says. For this year’s challenge, Autodesk supplied every FIRST team with 10 free licenses of Inventor and 10 of 3ds Max, the company’s 3D animation, rendering and modeling software. Autodesk also set up a resource center in the middle of the “Pits,” where students retreated between matches to work on their robots and prepare for their next challenge. “Kids are sponges; they always want to learn more,” says Paul Mailhot, senior director of WW Education Programs at Autodesk. “We’re constantly working to give students the means to apply Autodesk Inventor and other design tools in the classroom.”
Take a look at the video below for robot closeups, scenes from FRC matches and the Pits and a look at Autodesk's resource center.