Its been a tough year for Robotics

It has been a bit over a year now, since we were impacted by the 1st pandemic in over 100 years.

The FIRST robotics season started off with the normal excitement and after the Saturday kickoff, we off and running – trying to figure out what and how to build a competitive machine.

During the months leading up to January, we met with the students on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school for a few hours. We used that time to help teach fundamentals of various science, technology, math, and robotics subjects. We also used this time to recruit students for our FIRST Robotics team.

The methodology and approach we used, was to include a new topic each day, with a presentation that included a video or demonstration supporting that topic. We were able to discuss, teach, instruct, and have fun too.

The last month culminated in an event similar to a FIRST Robotics event. 2020 involved using a small programmable robot called mBot, which is made and sold by MakeBlock. The code was similar to “Scratch”, using drag and drop icons to define the logic needed to make the little robot function.

2020 Game

We invented a simple game that could be played using the mBot, and we built an 8’ by 8’ playing field that the mBots were to be driven on during the matches.

The students were divided into 3 teams and were each required to drive, during the competition. We had a multi-match tournament and kept score after each round. The students needed to work with an assigned mentor that would assist them in brainstorming, modifications, and also in building the mBOT.

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We had a lot of fun and I’m happy to say that it was a hit.

After our Christmas break, we met with great anticipation first the FIRST Kickoff. The game reveal and starting the chassis build soon followed. We would meet after school a few days each week and also a full day on Saturday. Brainstorming and design alternatives were discussed and developed – the build was moving along nicely. Our first in-person event was quickly approaching and we still had a bunch of work to do.

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Then, everything came to a screeching halt.

One of our newest mentors, Jeff Johnson – got really sick. We didn’t get a chance to attend our events.

Our robot never got completely programmed or totally finished being built, and de-bugged.
FIRST cancelledIMG_3456 all subsequent events, and our FIRST robotics season was done.

Then, to make things even worse, Jeff passed away.

Over the summer, the team leaders (Tom Reisner, Regina Himmelspach, Lewis Cole, and myself) kept in contact and monitored the FIRST notifications, to see what plans were in the works for 2021.

The students were being taught classes virtually online, when they returned to school in the Fall. Meeting in-person was not an option, as the school district, state, and local governments wouldn’t allow it. (Which was fine with most of the mentors, as we were still all a bit shaken up by what happened with Jeff).

Previous to the FIRST announcement for how the 2021 FIRST Robotics season would be offered to teams that registered, the mentors had determined that we did want to try and continue mentoring our team at Osborn High School. We didn’t want to see the program simply disappear, or have to try and re-start it again from scratch, in the future.
I proposed that we do a virtual learning and competition event prior to the FIRST kickoff, similar to the year before – but, instead of after school in the classroom, it would be completed virtually “at home”.

Our lead teacher (Tom Reisner) successfully recruited the students from the previous year that were currently in school doing virtual learning. He created a Teams website for our students and mentors to collaborate, communicate, share ideas, and meet.

team page

We completed the development of the curriculum, the training/teaching presentations, the “kit of parts”, the cost impact of the materials needed, ordered the materials, packaged the kits, and finished “The Final Challenge” Game competition. Each lesson had a theme which included famous scientists with a STEM based topic.

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We had a plan to maintain a FIRST Robotics team, regardless if there were any events this year or not.
Tom Reisner was contacted by numerous sponsors, requesting information of our status – and if we would be registering a team this year. We indicated that we were certainly hoping to be able to compete this year.

We did register with First in Michigan, and were informed that we would be eligible for sponsorship funds. We encouraged and assisted getting the students to register on-line on the FIRST Inspires website.
When the FIRST Kickoff occurred this past January, we collectively agreed that we wanted to participate in the “at home skills challenges” – if, we were able to get access to the robot, the controls, the team programming laptop, and an approved safe location to meet, build, test, practice, setup, and compete at.
I also suggested that we attempt to do the “Game Design” challenge. I would lead them through the process, as I have had a pretty extensive history in developing robotic games. I previously designed games that were utilized in the Chief Delphi Invitational, when I was a co-lead mentor on Team 47. And, I designed previous Fall Robotics club competitions for my current team, 6099.
So, that was the plan that we reviewed at our virtual team meeting and with our students and mentors.

team page 2
We have met every Saturday from 10am to noon, since Kickoff in January.
We attempted the Game Design Challenge, but were unsuccessful in meeting the deadline for submitting our design. That was mainly due to a lack of student participation and not having enough students volunteer to take on the additional work needed to develop and complete a submission of the game design.
Unfortunately, like many other schools, we have not had access to the various things previously mentioned, that would be needed to complete the “at home skills challenge”.
We have reviewed the scheduled curriculum topics for our virtual learning, and the students and mentors have completed the weekly build projects – which were included in the provided kits. We wanted to begin teaching the students programming, and felt the “drag and drop” logic used by MakeBlock would be the best 1st step. Here are a few examples of that type of coding.

makeblock coding (2)

We plan on teaching Python next, or using the ROMI robot kit provided by FIM and Magna to each robotics team in Michigan, to teach the students National Instruments Labview software.

That’s the software language our FIRST Robot uses.

I created a youtube video and revealed the “The Final Challenge” to the team this week. I notified everyone via our Microsoft Teams page and this Saturday, I will entertain any and all questions the students and mentors might have relative to rules or clarifications.
The Final Challenge video instructions.

The Final Challenge video instructions

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The “kit of materials” delivered to each student’s home this past December included a full size replica of the playing field, and everything else needed to complete the projects associated with the learning topic each week.

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The “Final Challenge”, requires the use of all the projects created over the past 9 weeks, plus additional necessary modifications.

Each student will be able to practice as much as they want to, before submitting their “best timed results”. We hope to be able to meet outside (in the parking lot at the school) or potentially in the gymnasium for an in-person competition and awards ceremony.

We are very, very grateful to our sponsors, FIM, and FIRST Robotics for the continued support – and the opportunity to try to influence & make a difference in the lives of our students.
Thank you,
Mike Aubry, on behalf of our Mentors and Students on Team 6099 Osborn Knight Riders

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