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FTC teams faced mountain of a challenge at FIRST® Championship

FTC robots duke it out in the competition field at the 2015 Championship.

FTC robots duke it out in the competition field at the 2015 Championship.

The 2016 pit area, where FTC teams worked on and demonstrated their year's work.

The 2016 pit area, where FTC teams worked on and demonstrated their year's work.



Create a challenging game and subtract a limitation on robotics systems. Then, add the best of the 50,000+ students who participated in this year’s FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC®) event and you get a hotbed of robotics creativity and excitement.

The 2016 FIRST Championship, held April 27-30 in St. Louis, MO, saw the now-familiar sight of teams from all around the world gathering in crazy team apparel – from tiaras and wizard hats to sailor uniforms and Star Wars costumes – to partner and compete in one of the the most exciting robotics competitions around.

This year’s FTC game, RES-QSM, required robots to climb a ramp with bars to represent a mountain to deliver balls and cubes to different buckets on the ramp. To earn extra points, robots could reach and hang from the top bar – which angled back over the ramp – at the end of the match.
“It’s a hard game this year,” said Emma Onstad, a junior on Team Rhyme Know Reason 8528 from Delaware. “I’ve been in it three years and it’s a hard game.”

When I talked to the teams, it was apparent that creating the hang mechanism stirred up a lot of debate and excitement among team members as they designed robots. While it was a cool part of the competition to watch, it presented an uphill challenge for teams who often build heavy robots. A heavy robot trying to lift itself could burn out motors and cause other problems, so teams had to get creative with their power and gearing or build a lighter robot (or both).

An FTC robot performs a hang at the end of a match.

An FTC robot performs a hang at the end of a match.



Some teams focused on the hang at the start while others added it later. A few opted to forgo worrying about it and zeroed in on other ways to score. In the end, we saw a variety of techniques in use for the hang, from tape measures on winches that delivered ropes to the top bar to pull up on to arms with hooks that reached the top bar and retracted to pull up.

This year, teams didn't have to use specific robotics systems as in the past. Despite this, TETRIX® MAX was still in heavy use. Bomb Squad 9804, a rookie team from Los Angeles, said they used TETRIX for their chassis because it was relatively light and still strong. Around this MAX chassis, they added their own custom-made parts to complete their robot design. This was a common practice this year among the 128 FTC teams that attended.

Custom parts included wooden pieces, milled metal parts, 3-D printed items, and more. Hardware and dollar stores were also scoured for potential parts, with the likes of bicycle bottle holders and elastic hair bands showing up on robots.

As in the past, several TETRIX representatives were on hand this year to offer tech support, helping FTC teams stay in the game with replacement parts and tips. Robotics Application Specialist Tim Lankford and R&D Manager Paul Uttley also addressed concerns and answered questions during two vendor Q&A sessions.

Stay after school for more learning fun!

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By Andrea Jaramillo, TAG Member, Forman Elementary, Plano, TX

Let’s all stay after school for more learning fun! After-school programs can be either a burden or a blessing for students, teachers, and parents. I believe that students enjoy learning, playing, and growing with one another in an enriching environment whether that be before, during, or after school. How can we make the learning purposeful, engaging, and related to what our students need to be lifelong learners?

I started an after-school program for fourth- and fifth-grade engineers.
Our program plays on the four Cs, the super skills of the 21st century: collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity.

We've developed a community of learners within our program and school where we aim to find answers and solutions. I create an environment that promotes creativity through the lens of new experiences, which brings value to my students' opinions. Instead of the conventional approach, I guide students to discovering the why, the how, and the what's next.

I ask students why they enjoy staying after school, and their answers say everything.

“I like after-school programs because they're not as stressful as the classroom. I get to use my imagination, and I get to learn more about things I am interested in. I feel like I belong.” - Fourth-grade student

Using measuring tape in surprising ways

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Measuring tape is a staple of any toolbox. It’s got the obvious, practical use of being great for measuring things, but it also has surprising uses in a wide variety of activities.

For example, take Pitsco Education’s Toolbox Racer. The Toolbox Racer uses the potential energy found in the spring of the measuring tape to power a small race car. All you need is measuring tape and a Toolbox Racer Kit, and you can have a fun racing activity that's easily used in any hallway at home or at school. Add some mass to the car while testing it, and you can determine the velocity of the vehicle.
Another great activity that can be accomplished with a measuring tape is using it to measure impossible heights.

What you need is a measuring tape, notebook, calculator, and pen. By using these items, your shadow, and the concept of proportion, you can determine the height of objects much larger than yourself. The activity involves measuring the height of your shadow, measuring your height, and using those numbers to attain the proportion. From that point you can begin determining the height of objects such as a flagpole, tree, basketball hoop, and more.

One of the cleverest ways students have been using measuring tape recently is in the 2015-2016 FIRST® Tech Challenge. This year’s game, called Res-QSM, requires robots to climb a simulated mountain. Students have been using measuring tape to create a winch system that enables their robots to easily climb up the side of obstacles and complete the challenge. Here’s a video explaining the design of the measuring tape winch and a video of a robot using it during competition.

As you can see, even a plain old measuring tape can be used in tons of different creative activities. The only real design limit is your imagination. Do you have any activities or ideas for using measuring tape? Make sure to sound off in the comments and let us know!

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