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A Look Into High School Robotics

What do students do in competitive robotics? What's it like being a part of high school robotics? Here is my personal experience from beginner to captain and how I feel being on a FRC robotics team.

The last time I went to a robotics meeting as a freshman, the upper-classmen ignored me and my friends, leaving me disappointed and uninterested. When I returned alone to a robotics meeting during summer break, I had no idea what I would be doing, and my expectations weren’t very high.  I started as a complete beginner without past experience, but as I continued to come back and learn each week, I found a few things along the way that became important and shaped me.

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Image from Team 365

The quick introduction to FRC

My team competes in FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition), a competition where high school students around the world build a robot that can participate in the annual competition game. A new game with different objectives and obstacles is released each year, and we are given six weeks to build a robot that can complete the necessary objectives. As of 2018, over 91,000 members and 3,647 teams from 27 different countries have participated (1).

In my team’s case, we have to go through our Regionals to reach the FRC Championships, but another option exists for other teams. Some team can choose to compete at their District competition, then District Championships, and finally the FRC Championships. In the end, it is every teams’ goal to earn a spot in either of the two FRC Championships through Regionals or District competitions. This year’s game was PowerUp, a game that assigned teams of 3 to fight for control of switches or a scale by placing more milk crates on their respective side.

 

FRC communities

A great part of FRC is the community that reaches beyond the extent of a single team. Online forums and public chat rooms are often used by novice and experienced roboticists to ask questions and discuss wide ranges of topics. It could be anything from how to use different types of materials, getting advice on robot computer-aided design (CAD) models, or general questions about FRC.

Teams are also well connected not just online. During offseason, we are often in communication with local high school teams for help, advice, or just to hang out together. Even at competition, teams who needed supplies announced what parts they needed over the loudspeaker and always found another team willing to share a part. FIRST Robotics actively supports this culture, calling it “Coopertition”.

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Image from pixabay

From outside the classroom

By working with my FRC team, I started learning to operate the various power tools in the workshop. Building prototypes out of wood and messing with metal all the time made learning all the tools of the workshop intuitive and fun. I was inexperienced and intimidated with the tools and machinery, but eventually got to learn to operate a Computer numerical control (CNC) machine, plasma table, all kinds of power tools, Computer-aided design (CAD) software, and recently welding equipment. Hands-on learning is the best way to get comfortable and the experience as a high school student can be very valuable in the future.

Soft skills like problem-solving, decision making, delegating, networking, and strategic planning are all integrated and raised to the next level when comparing to school work. With the six-week time limit and the clock winding down, adapting to the problem, making the best decisions, and delegating the workload is essential especially during the school year when everyone is busy.  Not knowing how to do something and asking to learn is expected, but being inactive is unacceptable.

What matters most

The best part is the people who I found, and how they shaped me. I met new people who are willing and happy to teach me anything they know whenever I ask. It’s the space where I found humility when I realized I couldn’t understand everything alone, but I could always learn more by asking others. We have a freshman on the team who has a great mind, skipped a grade, and is almost four years younger than I am, but I’m always asking him questions because of what he can teach me. I’m glad to have found this special kind of community that radiates such enthusiasm and is always eager to grow from each other.

 

 


(1) “2018 Season Facts” (PDF). FIRST. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 25, 2018. Retrieved March 25, 2018.

“Where STEM Skills and Soft Skills Meet.” FIRST, 21 Nov. 2017, http://www.firstinspires.org/community/inspire/where-stem-skills-and-soft-skills-meet.

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