After winning the Boston FIRST Regional Robotics Competition this year, high school robotics team the NU-TRONS went on to compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) in Atlanta, GA, as Team 125. NU-TRONS co-captain and high school senior John Larkin talks about how the team prepared for this year’s challenge and what it took to stand out in a crowd of 344 teams.
What kinds of challenges did you face this year?
Well, we used a six-wheel drive train this year. In the past we’ve used four, so that was an adjustment. Robots in the FRC also have to adhere to strict height and weight requirements. The taller the robot, the less it has to weigh. We decided to keep our robot at four feet, so we had 120 lb to work with. We budgeted our weight this year by foregoing the use of ramps. Some robots include ramps because other robots can successfully drive up them to grant their alliance extra points. But not using the ramp allowed our robot to stay at 115 lb this year. Using a ramp is great though. In the Boston regional competition this year, our robot made it from mid-field to the top of another robot’s ramp in three seconds. They cut the power at the end of each match, but we coasted up the ramp because of our weight and the current speed. Seasoned veterans at the regionals said it was the coolest thing they’d seen. And we won the competition right after that, so that was great.
What was your strategy going into this year’s FRC?
Hard work definitely paid off this year. We only have six weeks to pull everything together, so that’s important. Our robot’s most impressive feature is definitely ramped-up sensor integration. During a match, optical encoders and angular accelerometers react according to their surroundings. The patterns of code that result from these sensors’ reactions are then uploaded and sent to the joystick controllers that we operate, and we in turn send that information to the robotic controller, which is really the brain of the robot. So everything works together to drive the robot, which runs on a 40-amp CIM motor, as quickly as possible.
What is the most enjoyable part of the competition?
One great thing about building the robot was that our sponsors – Textron, headquartered in Wilmington, MA and Custom Metal Products (CMP), based out of Melrose, MA – really supported us with their materials, tools and facilities. CMP allowed us the use of their ProtoTRAK, which is a three-axis prototyping mill, and their CNC machine. We were also able to make our wheels this year using a wave. The six weeks of building the robot are very hectic. I enjoy the last week of building the robot the most. It’s in pieces until then, and it’s great to see the hardware come together. Once everything is assembled, we have to ship it off right away – so it’s good to see the robot in one piece before we head off to compete.
How does your robot stand out?
This year we decided to get our robot anodized, which is to give it a chemical bath. Aluminum oxide grows out of the surface of the robot during the anodizing process and then becomes aluminum hydrate, which is extremely hard. The bath essentially cooks the robot to make the aluminum stronger and less likely to stratch. The porous nature of the anodized layer also allows the robot to be dyed a different color. Northeastern University is one of our sponsors, so we decided to dye our robot’s aluminum black and maroon in keeping with the school’s colors.
John Larkin is a senior at Brookline High School and co-captain of the NU-TRONS.