The seniors of the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy’s FIRST Robotics team, Team 1717, known as the D’Penguineers, have spent their high school careers preparing for this year’s FIRST Robotics challenge.
During their freshman, sophomore and junior years, DPEA students take various levels of physics, engineering, computer science and sculpture classes. The mechanical and programming concepts the students study, paired with ample opportunities to apply their knowledge in project-based learning, allows students to build a set of skills that aids them in creating a robot in their senior year.
The seniors’ first semester was spent team-building, studying the science of engineering and expanding their project-based experience. A weekly class, held on Monday evenings, brought together the 33 members of Team 1717 and an almost equally large group of mentors that included parents with engineering backgrounds, volunteers from local industry and DPEA alumni. The mentors were able to instruct small groups of students to help them specialize in programming, computer-aided design (SolidWorks), machining, electricity, pneumatics and transmissions.
FIRST Robotics was the brainchild of Dean Kamen, an inventor best known for the Segway. Kamen observed that America’s children looked to sports stars and musical artists as role models, and he wanted to change public perception so young people would see scientists and engineers in the same light.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) holds an annual competition involving more than 300,000 students from more than 60 countries at all levels of competition, from the Junior FIRST Lego League, for children ages 5 to 8, to the FIRST Robotics Competition, for high school students. In early January, FIRST releases a video of a never-before-seen game, and teams have six weeks from that point to design and build a robot to complete the objectives of that game.
After the six weeks, teams and their robots attend regional competitions, working toward an opportunity to go to the world championships in St. Louis.
The kickoff began at 7:30 a.m. Jan. 7, as the members of Team 1717 gathered in the new Elings Center for Engineering Education, eagerly awaiting the announcement of the game. The tension built as Stephen Colbert, from The Colbert Report, hosted the 2012 FIRST kickoff event.
Throughout the kickoff, many celebrities and well-known figures — such as Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent, White House chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas made appearances to cheer on and support FIRST Robotics participants.
This year’s challenge, Rebound Rumble, is a basketball-themed game in which two alliances of three robots each compete to score foam basketballs into four basketball hoops. Alliances have the opportunity to score additional points at the end of each match by balancing their robots on platforms, or “bridges,” in the middle of of the field. For the maximum amount of points, all three robots on an alliance need to squeeze on to one bridge. During the first 15 seconds of the match, robots can only be controlled by using a Microsoft Kinect. Baskets scored during this period are worth more points.
This year’s game combines the challenges of previous games in its requirement of specific shooting tactics. It has a unique twist, however, because there are a very low number of balls on the field, which will make game strategy very important this year.
After the new game was revealed, Dos Pueblos’ various engineering teams immediately split off to discuss how to approach the game challenge. The transmission team began researching the motors that are given to the team as part of the kickoff kit; the mechanism teams discussed the best methods for shooting and scoring; the programming team contemplated how to integrate Microsoft’s Kinect system.
After hours of debate and discussion, the team reconvened to again examine the animation video to analyze the game with more intensity. They re-enacted Rebound Rumble with human players in place of robots, to develop a greater understanding of the way the game will play out in competition.
Saturday marked the beginning of the six-week period in which the D’Penguineers will devote all their time and energy to strategizing, designing and constructing a robot that will compete in FIRST Robotics.
Unlike previous years, the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy’s Class of 2012 had the luxury of celebrating the kickoff in the new Elings Center for Engineering Education. The new building supported the possibility for students to work in separate groups so they could generate unique ideas to approach the game. While sharing these preliminary ideas, they were able to consider more elaborate mechanisms to incorporate onto the robot because they have access to a 3,500-square-foot machine shop with 16 lathes and 16 mills — enough for each student to simultaneously machine parts for the robot. For the next six weeks, the D’Penguineers will call this building “home.”
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— The Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy Public Relations & Event Reporting Team includes Jeff Gau, Phillip Hodgson, Justin Morris, Parker Olson, Sepideh Parhami, Danielle Tisdale and Chloe Warinner.