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.
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.
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.