The FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) is for grades 7 through 12. It is a fantastic program which bridges the gap between FIRST LEGO League (FLL) and FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). FTC provides an opportunity to experience the field of engineering before making a career choice. Through building a robot, students gain direct experience in brainstorming, critical thinking, designing, building, programming, evaluating and then reiterating to make improvements throughout the engineering design process.
Prince of Peace is home to FTC team #9010 – Robotic Rangers. This is the third season for the Robotic Rangers and the team members learned how to draw using CAD packages such as Autodesk’s Fusion 360 and PTC Creo. Some of the designs they created were then output on a 3D printer. Everyone is impressed with the ability to design a component, draw it, print it, and use it on the robot within a few hours.
The students learned how to use some tools not everyone has in their garage. After using the CAD program to design the robot, it must be brought to life. Using band saws, drill presses, lathes and milling machines, the student assemble aluminum, polycarbonate, and 3D printed parts together to make a functional robot. Of course, safety and supervision are present while the students use this powerful equipment.
Since the control hardware uses standard Android phones, team members learned how to program using Google’s Android Studio using Java. This not only teaches the members programming but gets them comfortable with programming in a mobile environment. The same development tools and hardware used for programming the robot could be used to program mobile applications.
After a basic robot is functioning, the students grab as many sensors as possible to make the robot able to interact autonomously with the environment. From encoders, gyro’s, to vision sensors, each sensor provides valuable feedback to the robot to accurately perform its function.The students are having so much fun building, designing and competing, they often don’t realize how much they learned.
Over the years, the team reached out to the community to help promote FIRST and raise money to sustain the team. Team members called prospective sponsors and performed presentations. They described their design process, components of the robot and passion for building a competitive robot. This experience taught the team members the importance of having a business plan and public speaking. The team raised over $10,000 in sponsorships from local businesses.
Being a part of FIRST also allows access to $50 million in scholarships. This past year, one of our team members qualified for a $20,000 scholarship.
Every year the team improves and continues to receive awards for their innovative designs. This past year the team won the Inspire Award and their League Division. This qualified them for the North Texas Regional competition. The Robotic Rangers were the North Texas Regional Winners and advanced to the South Super Regional’s in Athens, GA. The team enjoyed traveling together and competed with the top 72 teams from 11 states. The competition was tough and everyone learned a tremendous amount from the experience. The Robotic Rangers look forward to the exciting challenges for years to come.