FIRST students and guests enjoy a full scale competition event, a college and career fair, and more! Guests are able to tour Team Pits to see team members working on their robots and have a chance to talk to students, visit the Roboticon Exhibit Hall to enjoy STEM demos, vendors and organizations, and learn more about technical, math and science career and college opportunities.
While the stress and challenge of an official competition is a lot of fun, there is nothing in the FIRST Robotics realm quite like an off-season event. Organized by the Eureka! Factory, in partnership with the University of South Florida and the Florida FIRST Alumni Association, ROBOTICON Tampa Bay has become both a team and fan favorite.
This year, the FIRST Looks team got a chance to speak with team members from FIRST LEGO League, FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics Competition team, plus a FIRST LEGO League Affiliate Partner and program partners. One of the highlights of the event was the first ever international team, FRC Team 5606, Red Hurricane, from China, who also spoke with Daniele and Marissa.
It Takes Alumni to pull off the Biggest and Best ROBOTICON yet.
Florida Polytechnic Student and FIRST Alumni, Zachary Weingarten joined us to discuss ROBOTICON, FIRST and the Robotics Club at Florida Polytechnic University. Zachary is a sophomore at the newly formed tech school located in Lakeland, Florida and has been an instrumental part of everything that made this weekend a success.
The Robotics Club started with just a couple of students during the school's inaugural year in 2016 and is growing rapidly with about 30 students this year. They have alumni from FIRST and VEX, as well as some students who were not previously on a formal robotics team but have a passion for building robots. The students recently participated in the First Tech Challenge's Robot in a Weekend program where they built a working prototype robot in just two days, immediately after getting the specs from the FTC Kickoff in September.
This robot is what brought the club here to volunteer at ROBOTICON Tampa Bay 2017. They came to show off the robot, run some scrimmages and assist the FTC teams with their builds and answer questions. Members of the club also volunteered for ROBOTICON directly and helped with FRC field set up and overall assistance during the event.
Zach joins Daniele and Marissa, also FIRST Alum, in speaking about their experiences in FIRST as well as offering due props to the FIRST Alumni Coordinator for the state of Florida, Barry Bohnsack. Barry is not only a great recruiter and mentor for these students, but he is also very active in FIRST activities and helps to make the experience fun.
Of the four programs in the FIRST family, the one that can often surprise is FIRST LEGO League. The students are younger, starting in 4th grade, and the machines are smaller, but that is truly what makes these robots so impressive. These small, LEGO-constructed robots are able to accomplish a great deal on their field.
Abigail Peterson, a graduated member of FIRST LEGO League team 302, Squirtle Squad Scholars, spoke with us about her experiences with FIRST and with her team. She also discusses the aspect of FLL that sets the program apart from its larger siblings - the research project. Through this aspect of the program, the students get the opportunity to get in-depth with their subject matter and speak to people in the industry.
The programs of FIRST are possible only through the time and efforts of volunteers, and a competition like ROBOTICON requires a wide variety of people to make it possible. One of our volunteers this year was Todd Hanning, who helped keep the room energetic by DJing, but that's not all he does.
Hanning has been involved with FIRST alumni, along with other students, at Florida Polytechnic University in developing a new product. In addition, he was also involved in the beginning of SOFWERX, a STEM facility that supports FIRST events, including hosting the FIRST Stronghold kickoff event in January 2016.
One FIRST team that has a special place in our cast's hearts is Team Duct Tape, and that is because both of our hosts are alumni of the team. The team got started when some students of a FIRST LEGO League graduated out of the program and has grown into one of the Florida powerhouses, being invited to Super Regional and World Championship competitions in past seasons.
Jacob Cannon, who has been on the team for several seasons, talks with his former teammates about this year's FIRST Tech Challenge game and how Team Duct Tape has dealt with the game. The team has implemented some new parts, including some that are custom made, that they hope will give them increased on-field results. Unfortunately, we will have to wait for competition to see it in full action.
This year, our staff took responsibility for the technical aspects of ROBOTICON, including video on the JUMBOTRON and live streamed on Facebook. One angle that we have never had before at our competition is a moving aerial shot. Luckily, one of the event partners made this a reality.
Cigar City Multirotors is a local flying club, and Zac Lessin, Vice President of the club, came to speak to us about the group, what they do and how to join. He also discussed how they planned to help us enhance our live video through the use of aerial drones.
One of the most unique experiences you can have in FIRST is to be part of a rookie team. FRC 5816, GRA-V, had their rookie season in the 2016 game, FIRST Stronghold, and Vice President and NEMO Lead Kaitlyn Bowman came to speak about that experience. The team won the Rookie Award at the Orlando Regional, and got an invitation to participate in World Championship.
In addition, Kaitlyn is a member of a brand new FIRST Tech Challenge team, which is so new it doesn't have a number yet. Velocity Vortex, the 2016-2017 game, will be their initial game, and Kaitlyn discusses her experiences so far with the game.
This past season was an interesting one for many FIRST Robotics Competition teams, mostly because FIRST Stronghold, this year's game, was very unique. A large variety of ways to score and a combination of finesse and brute force made Stronghold different from any game in recent memory. Some teams rose to the challenge and others struggled.
One of the teams that succeeded in Stronghold was FRC 4769 Nerdvana. Melody McGinness, a senior and team President, spoke with us about her team's great season, the team's history and her plans after FIRST. While she doesn't plan on pursuing an engineering degree, she does plan on staying within the STEAM realm. She plans on going into an art field, and has been inspired by her time doing design work for her team.
Most FIRST Robotics Competition teams are based out of one or more schools, there are some exceptions. Edgar Allan Ohms, based in Land O' Lakes, is one of those exceptions. The team is the first FRC team based in a public library in the nation. Because of the team, the library has built a makerspace to support the team. Today, the makerspace sees over 100 people per day.
Miller Bacon, the Lead Engineer and only remaining original member, came by to talk to us about the library and the team. He discussed the changes from the initial season, the expansion of the makerspace and how the team has grown around himself and AmeriCorps VISTA Joel over the past 4 seasons.
In addition, he talked about an overly ambitious project which involved creating custom tank treads for the machine. As it turned out, the change in materials from the practice field to the competition field caused some initial troubles.
Because Florida is such a large state, FIRST LEGO League is divided into several smaller leagues to provide easier competition for the teams. Beth Hanning is the Affiliate Partner for Northwest Florida, and is responsible for helping to organize events, get teams started and to teach the leaders of the teams. She spoke with us about some of the details of her position, and what she enjoys most - coaching coaches and coaching teams. She also helped to explain this year's FLL game information.
Beth is also involved with the SOFWERX facility in Tampa. This facility is a partnership between the Doolittle Institute and United States Special Operations Command, which is also located in Tampa, "to assist with collaboration, innovation, prototyping and exploration with industry, labs and academic partners."
While ROBOTICON Tampa Bay is not an official competition with Championship implications, they did welcome their first ever international team in 2016. FIRST Robotics Competition team 5606, Red Hurricane, traveled to Tampa from Shenyang, Liaoning in China specifically to compete in this off-season event.
RuoYi Lu, a Grade 11 student and captain of the team, talked with us about FIRST Robotics Competition in China, their first ever official regional in the country, the growing influence the program has on students and his hopes for the future of the program. He also discussed the team's participation in other international competition, namely the regional they usually attend in Australia.
When it comes to FIRST, every student's experience is a little different. While some team members, like our own Daniele, join the program later in school, others join early. Brant Norris, the Co-Captain of FRC 1557, 12 Volt Bolt, falls into the latter category.
Starting in FIRST LEGO League at the age of 9, he joined 12 Volt Bolt after moving to the area. As a senior, he plans on going into electrical engineering, which was inspired by his time getting hands-on experience through FIRST.
Like many FRC team members this year, his most difficult and favorite aspects of Stronghold were both the same - the challenge presented by the variety of defenses on the field. He also plans on staying with FIRST after graduation, including mentoring teams.
One of the most important aspects of the FIRST experience is outreach. Teams are encouraged to participate in events to spread the word about FIRST programs and STEAM in general. Some teams take this idea to an extreme - in a good way.
Jordan Shavell from FRC 1902, Exploding Bacon Robotics, spoke with us about the many aspects of her team. One unique aspect of Exploding Bacon is their new outreach initiative: FIRST Like A Girl. It encourages girls on FIRST teams around the world to tell their stories about their programs to show other girls why participating in STEAM fields, and FIRST in particular, is not only an option, but important.
FIRST Like A Girl also filmed interviews at ROBOTICON, adding a new 17 videos to the initiative. The team plans on building a curriculum to help other teams and regions get involved.