The FIRST robots start out as a kit of parts. These kits include a surprising array of components including electric motors, aluminum frames, electrical wires, batteries, fasteners, drive wheels, pneumatic system components, sophisticated electronics and computer software. The kit includes just about everything you would need to get a basic robot moving. The technology included in the robot kit was surprising.
Truly professional engineering level software is provided and utilized for the FIRST robots. One student was working on full 3D models of the robot build using AutoCAD Inventor. Another student was working on the control and feedback system in LabVIEW. The introduction of theses tools and their real world applications is invaluable for students to experience.
The real challenge for the student teams is to design and build the actuators and functional attachments to the robots. This task involves creative mechanisms and power transmission concepts. I spent most of my time with team captain Brian Orr. To effectively utilize their limited time, he had several small groups working on the various sections of their robot at the same time. The goal for the day was to complete the design and fabrication of a pneumatic actuator which must extend then grab and release an inflated ring. They had selected the pneumatic system with cylinder and solenoid control to act as their actuator. The assembly would pull on a string to grab the inside diameter of the inflatable ring. Testing of this system went very well during my visit.
It was clear that FIRST team #3717 is well on their way to creating a remarkable competition robot using industry quality components and software. The experiences they gain during this process will apply directly to modern employment opportunities in many industries. To everyone involved in the FIRST Robotics Competition, I salute you.
To watch the latest webisode from the Middle College High School about preparing for the FIRST competition, click here. To learn more about FIRST, click here to view their website.