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Supporting the Future of STEM as a Volunteer Mentor

Last April I wrote about the FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC). Having sponsored Team 1991 (The Dragons) I dropped in on the District Competition at Hartford Public High School to watch them compete. I was so inspired by the students that I volunteered to join the team as a programming mentor for the 2019 season. The theme this season is Destination: Deep Space presented by Boeing. This two-minute video provides an overview of the game.

As for The Dragons and my fellow mentors, a few words come to mind. Passion. Dedication. Teamwork. Students have classwork, exams, part time jobs, and family obligations. Mentors have full time jobs and countless other adult responsibilities. Sharing responsibility, picking up where others left off, night after night, every night, some combination of students and mentors are working together, learning together, and doing their part to move the mission forward toward competition.

Team 1991 The Dragons

Our first competition was the New England District Competition in Waterbury March 8th through 10th. The road to get there was not without setbacks. Loose screws. A missing elevator spacer. A misaligned drive train. A blown fuse. A malfunctioning motor controller. One issue after another. In the final hours before the event, it was all hands-on deck. The question was, would we be ready?

As the clock ticked ever closer to game time, we overcame each new challenge we encountered. It wasn’t until the last few moments before the competition that Garc (official robot name) came together. We were ready. Barely, but ready.

With no time to practice the first few matches became our practice. It was evident. Each match was a learning experience. Back in the pit we discussed strategy and made tweaks. By mid-day on Saturday things were looking much better. Having ironed out controls on the climb, the drive team was consistently ending each match up on level 3 of the habitat.

Team Dragon Robot

This key capability helped earn The Dragons a rank of 8 of 41 teams and a spot in the playoffs.

Over the past few weeks the students have made great strides. The build team added mechanical improvements to address key weaknesses identified in the first competition. My programming students have added autonomous capabilities in the robot code using a clever gradient decent algorithm for targeting with computer vision. The drive team has gained valuable operator experience on a functioning practice robot. The result of these efforts is reduced cycle times, improved accuracy, and a more potent contender.

From April 5th through 7th we’ll be in Hartford for the next New England District event. The event is open to the public. I encourage those in the area to stop in and see what FRC is all about. Feel free to come by and say hello. I’ll be the guy in a Dragons shirt taking 360 video during Team 1991 matches.

The matches are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday at Hartford Public High School, 55 Forest St, Hartford, CT 06105. You can also catch the live stream here https://www.thebluealliance.com/gameday

Thank you to all of the sponsors, including my employer Tallan for supporting this group of students and allowing us all to work together to compete. Photo of Garc’s sponsor placard below.

Team Dragon Placard

Additional thanks to all of the parents who supplied food to fuel the team during our late nights and weekends.

Click Here to learn more about Tallan or see us in person at one of many Events!

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