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.
Live from the 2018 ROBOTICON Tampa Bay at the Yuengling Center at the University of South Florida. This year's event features 23 FIRST Robotics Competition teams, 16 FIRST Tech Challenge teams, 8 FIRST LEGO League teams, and 5 FIRST LEGO League Jr. teams. We speak with representatives from several of the teams, including some of the most recognizable teams in Florida, as well as rookie teams. We also speak with a software engineer from NASA about the future of space travel, including what is needed to get people to Mars and, more importantly, how to keep them alive once they arrive. We end the show with the Affiliate Partner for FIRST LEGO League and FIRST LEGO League Jr. in South Florida.
ROBOTICON Tampa Bay is the event to show student's involvement in engineering. That includes the college students at the University of South Florida, especially those studying to be engineers. USF has many different engineering clubs that specialized in certain branches, including one of IEEE student chapters. IEEE is the world's largest technical professional organization dedicated to electrical engineering.
At ROBOTICON Tampa Bay everyone wants to teach and inspire students to be apart of STEM education. While FIRST is active during the school year, students need to find other ways to be involved in STEM activities. The University of South Florida has a summer program called BULLSEYE, it focuses on teaching local middle school students in the Tampa Bay area life and engineering skills.
Our team interviewed Ahmirah, BULLSEYE's program coordinator and learned about the program and her experience while being involved. BULLSEYE is a free 6-week summer camp hosted at USF for local middle school students. It teaches an array of life skills and engineering disciplines. Activities include learning to use a 3D printer, motors, servos and even how to make a functional battle bot. The main focus of the summer camp is to teach practical skills to the next generation of engineers. She also talked about how students who went through the program loved it so much some came back as high school students to help mentor the new minds. BULLSEYE has been around for 5 years and Ahmirah was excited to say that last summer they had their largest camp yet, with over 100 participants.
Ahmirah is a chemical engineer student at the University of South Florida when she was a freshman she knew she wanted to help others. After finding BULLSEYE she explains how she fell in love with what the program did and wanted to help however she could. Even though Ahmirah admits she does not know that much about robotics she still was able to inspire the students and she learned life skills from the children in return. After learning about FIRST Ahmirah was fascinated and said that she now wants to get involved in FIRST.
To learn how you can be involved in BULLSEYE go to their BULLSEYE USF website.
The FIRST Tech Challenge had their game released two weeks prior to ROBOTICON Tampa Bay and, for some people, this event is the first time they get to see the field with robots running. The team interviewed Anaya from The Pink Team FIRST Tech Challenge 6326. This is her first year as a member and as a driver. The FIRST experience for Anaya hasn't just started, as she explained that her brother was a member of The Pink Team before her and that she is used to being surrounded by robots. Anaya became attached to FIRST through her familiarity with it and because of the influence of her father's creativity. Though she is in her first year, Anaya has already expressed interest in learning to program.
The Pink Team has been around for over 20 years and is still running strong! This team has come all the way from the Space Coast league and is different from others because of their cooperation between three different high schools on one team. It's common for a team to be based in a school, or for a team to be based in a garage, but it's less common for a group of schools to come together to build a single team. They include students from Rockledge, Cocoa Beach, and Port St. John.
The Pink Team has both a FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics Competition team and allows team members to be a part of both, with 45 students this team is large when compared to others. Anaya talked to us about the team and how the FIRST Tech Challenge team has been dedicated to going to meetings twice a week and are working hard on their design for the new robot. Which she states should be done within the next week.
To learn more about The Pink Team go to The Pink Team website, or find them on Facebook.
The field of engineering has many different branches and the University of South Florida does its best to have degree programs for all engineering disciplines. At ROBOTICON Tampa Bay, the team was joined by Abby, a sophomore biomedical engineering student. The biomedical engineering department was created only a year ago at USF and Abby is excited to be a part of the first class to go through the whole program. Even though the department is new, Abby talked about how she enjoys the coursework, and she looks forward to the more specialized classes such as the biomechanics labs.
Also, Abby is glad that the university is working hard to help the student succeed in the program. She found out about the program during her freshman year and has been involved in it since. The department lets students go down various paths towards their career in the biomedical field. USF lets students choose whether they want to go towards graduate school, medical school, or straight into the technology industry.
Abby started the program with no engineering background and she now she is enjoying it. Her plans are to get into biomechanics industry and gain more experience in the research field. Abby's dream is to work for NASA doing biomechanical research on how space affects the body and how to apply biomechanics to keep astronauts healthy in space. She is currently working in the research lab "CARRT" which specializes in rehabilitation research. She talks about how the bio-medical department can be feed into any engineering branch such as electrical, computer, mechanical or software engineering.
To learn more about the Department of Medical Engineering go to their website.
This year at ROBOTICON, everywhere you look there are space ships and rover landings. This is because all the FIRST programs have a space exploration theme. The team is joined by special guest Kurt Leucht a software engineer at NASA, who is here to show support. Kurt has been working for NASA for 27 years, he is part of Swamp Works a research group that works to create out of the box technology that astronauts will need in the future when they explore Mars. He talks about how there needs to be new technology developed to help the journey to Mars be as safe and cost-effective as possible. Part of Kurt's job is to find a way to use the environment on Mars to make water, rocket fuel and other necessities for the astronauts.
Kurt is also at ROBOTICON to give presentations about the process of long-distance space travel and he says it opens people's eyes and gets them excited about what NASA is doing and what to work towards for the future. Kurt explains that the current plan is to go back to the moon. To learn more about long term space travel, they are going to build a small space station around the moon called "the gateway," from there they will make a small lunar colony on the surface of the moon to practice long duration living in space.
The special thing about FIRST students Kurt talks about is that these children will be the ones to be living on Mars. He enjoys talking to kids and telling them that because they are growing up in a culture that promotes creative problem solving they are already started to become NASA engineers.
To learn more about NASA internships, visit the NASA intern website.
Having been in the FIRST arena for many years now, we obviously already have our own perspective from alumni, coach and mentor points of view. That being said, it's always great to get a totally fresh perspective of the organization and competitions. There's really no better way to accomplish this than to get it first hand from a member of a more newly formed team. Ringo from First Tech Challenge Team 12715, Robo Tux Cats, stopped by the FIRST Looks studio at ROBOTICON 2018 to let us know more about their team and their journey.
The Robo Tux Cats are a Florida team, from the Four Corners area. When we met, they were just starting their second season and, just as the year before, they were ready to jump right into the build. Prior to their rookie year, founding member Ringo had been wanting to get into robotics. After expressing his interest, his coach got the ball rolling with FIRST. And even with their small team of just four members, they were able to jump right in and get a robot ready for competition. The game for 2017 was Relic Recovery, which was a great one to get started with. They find the 2018 game, Deep Space, to be a bit more challenging but they like it a lot.
As a ninth-grader in his second year with the Robo Tux Cats, Ringo is the main programmer for the team. He also enjoys doing the photography for the team. And with such a small team, he, of course, finds himself helping with various other tasks, such as getting parts for the builders. They have a dedicated team, each with a lot of responsibilities and they are able to accomplish a lot, even though they generally only meet together once per week.
Check out Ringo's full interview to learn more about the game itself and their specific build.
University student always wants to get that real-world experience and clubs are the closest way to get it. USF has a variety of clubs related to engineering and some give students real-world experience. The team is listening to USF's Formula SAE Bulls Racing talk about how engineering students learn practical skills through designing and creating a race car every year.
A freshman mechanical student talks to us about Bulls Racing that creates and competes with a Formula SAE car. The competitions that they compete in include three dynamic events and a business presentation. The first event is the Autocross, it involves showing that the car can race by evaluating drivers' skills and quick thinking on a track. Next is the Acceleration event, they score the teams on the speed from start to end of a certain distance. Finally, the last event is the Endurance test, the main event is on a 22 Km track, where the cars real challenge is finishing.
The interesting parts are when halfway through teams must go to pits, turn off the car, change drivers, and restart the car. Of course, this is all timed the faster a car with the least amount of penalty points wins. These events are monitored by volunteers and timing equipment to ensure correct results. The student discusses how they create the entire design in SolidWorks before building. Moreover, to be cost-effective when they test parts of the car they use last year frame. The interviews ended after a comparison of the experience FIRST student receive in high school to that students receive in universities. He talks about the benefits he has received from being in this club and thinks that FIRST students are gaining great experience.
To learn more about University of South Florida's Formula SAE Bulls Racing go to the USF Bulls Racing website.
ROBOTICON is held in USF's Yuengling center, and there the engineering department always puts on an Expo that showcases the different engineering clubs and organizations at USF. Of course, this expo could not happen without all the hard work of the volunteers and the team is joined by Sampad the volunteer coordinator for USF's Expo.
Sampad Acharya or Sam is a second-year electrical science Ph.D. student at USF. In 2017 he came from India to continue his education in electrical and commuter science. He is at Roboticon managing 54 people from 20 different organization and research groups. His job is to make sure all the exhibitors have the supplies that they need and he is in charge of making sure that they are feed. The only issue Sam has faced was missing the volunteer lunch because he had been working. Sampad is a hard worker and is passionate about learning.
He goes into detail about how much he does around campus and in different organization. He is a Teacher's Assistant for a lab in the fundamentals of logic and design and conducts research involved in computer sciences. Moreover, he is the IEEE workshop chair at USF and through this program, he has met and taught other FIRST students. Sam explains how he got involved in IEEE by going to a quality free food banquet at an IEEE event, where he met lots of inspiring people and he decided that he wanted to get involved.
When Sam talked about his experience in the electrical engineering field he has already had experience working in India as a researcher for two colleges and at different engineering companies. He came to Florida because he wanted to expand his knowledge of artificial intelligence and programming.
To learn more about IEEE student chapter at USF IEEE USF. Also, to learn more about Sampad Acharya visit his LinkedIn IEEE USF.
While most of the time, FIRST Looks gets the opportunity to speak with members of FIRST Robotics Competition and FIRST Tech Challenge teams, we always look forward to our experiences with FIRST LEGO League team members. These students, while very young, are some of the most energetic and passionate, both about their teams and about FIRST in general. During ROBOTICON Tampa Bay 2018, the team spoke with Chloe from the Tie Dye Gummy Divas, Team 30648. The adorable team name came from combining one word from each team member, making it a true team effort.
Showing the team's excitement for the season, the team members all have a similar, but unique look. All of the girls were wearing a team shirt, matching rainbow tutu, and space-themed leggings, which match the theme for the season. Each member, however, had their own design for their leggings, getting to show off a little about themselves. This is a big part of the FIRST LEGO League program, with awards being given to the team with the most "team spirit."
For the Gummy Divas, there aren't exactly roles. The students get the opportunity to try different aspects of the build and research project and then focus on the aspects that they enjoy the most. For Chloe, that's been all about programming and building, while her friends have focused on other aspects of the season, like the research project. The project for the year is to think of the problems that would be encountered by people trying to live in space and help address those problems.
When thinking about the future of space travel and exploration, Chloe is very excited. She says that "it takes your breath away, figurately and literally." Profound words from a very smart girl. She believes that, in the future, we will find a way to live in space for more than just a few years, with colonies being built. She's also excited about the things that she's learning now in FIRST about robotics could one day help astronauts on other planets.
One of the most exciting parts of ROBOTICON Tampa Bay is the way it brings together some of the best volunteers and staff within the FIRST community from all over the state of Florida. One of those wonderful people in attendance in 2018 was Stacey Jones, the Affiliate Partner for FIRST LEGO League and FIRST LEGO League Jr. in South Florida. Stacey has been involved with FIRST for over 20 years in a variety of roles. Stacey is such an important part of the Florida community that she won the 2019 Volunteer of the Year Award at FIRST Championship in Detroit.
As the Affiliate Partner, Stacey is responsible for scheduling and planning all of the events for both FIRST LEGO League and FIRST LEGO League Jr., including tournaments and research presentations. She also makes sure that everyone involved, such as coaches and judges, get the training they need to be successful in their roles. Most importantly, she is responsible for making sure that everyone experiences calm events and a smooth season. Fortunately, FIRST provides a host of resources to help her with those goals, which also provide an opportunity to try for a consistent experience, whether students are in South Florida or Los Angeles.
This season, the South Florida group has been lucky to attract some new sponsors who are just as excited about FIRST as Stacey is. One partnership is with Netflix, particularly with the reboot of the 90s series Reboot. The new version of the series, Reboot: The Guardian Code, addresses a more modern version of the computer - not focusing on the struggles of an old mainframe, but instead on the interconnectivity of the internet. A few students are chosen to help defect the internet, including with the help of the original animated cast. In addition, she has been working with INFENTO, who produces a modular system for ridable robotics.
If you're involved in the FIRST community in Florida, then you are almost certainly aware of Middleton Robotics. The program is housed at the STEM magnet program at Middleton High School in Tampa, Florida, and has made a big name for themselves. Having one FIRST Robotics Competition team, currently two FIRST Tech Challenge teams (formerly three), as well as participating in VEX with two teams, Middleton knows how to compete.
At ROBOTICON Tampa Bay, we had the opportunity to speak with Manu, the President of Middleton Robotics. He is a three year veteran of FIRST Tech Challenge Team 3846 Maelstrom, but for his senior year switched to FIRST Robotics Competition Team 1369 Minotaur. This switch is because of the sheer volume of scholarships that are made available exclusively to FIRST Robotics Competition team members, meaning that seniors are best-served long-term as a Minotaur team member.
Coming into his Freshman year, Manu had no real robotics experience. However, knowing about Middleton's reputation as a world championship club is what attracted him to the school and the STEM program in the first place. Having the ability to participate in a program with teams in a variety of leagues has given him a better understanding of the similarities and differences between challenges. After switching from FIRST Tech Challenge to FIRST Robotics Competition, he noticed that there are a lot of similarities between the programs. The larger scale, however, allows for more people to be involved in the build, as well as adding a need for more detailed communication.
One of the big challenges he experienced was in the schedule of the competition. FIRST Robotics Competition starts its season in January, meaning that, for the first half of a new school year, you're having to learn the old game, despite it not having a lot of real-world value. Fortunately, ROBOTICON gives students who are new to the program the opportunity to experience a competition environment and practice with last year's game and robot before their new season begins.
As many of our viewers know, our host Daniele just graduated from Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland, Florida. This school is unique for a number of reasons, but its focus on STEM-based education is its standout feature. Having a school like this means that students can more easily find activities that align with their areas of study or their overall areas of interest. One of those activities is Purple Fire Robotics, a robotics team and alumni association at the school.
While we have talked in the past about the general activities of Purple Fire, this year we got to speak with Jacob about a new robotics initiative that he is involved with: Combat Robotics. While separate and apart from, the program is similar in nature to the BattleBots program. Teams build robots with the goal of knocking out or highly damaging their opponent's robot - a different intention from that of FIRST.
Jacob recognized the benefits of learning through combat robotics, however, and is working to bring National Robotics League competition to high schools and colleges. While the environment of FIRST helps to teach particular aspects of engineering, NRL competition has the ability to hone other engineering skills. The need to protect the body, drive train, and control system of NRL robots means learning about different materials and defensive tactics for design. These same principles are used every day when you look at the design of things like laptops, tablets, and phones - all of which need protection from drops.
Even though the nature of NRL is far more actively competitive, being one-on-one competition, the organization still fosters the same core values of FIRST. One team can completely destroy another team's robot and, after the match, will go over and help them rebuild, and then have lunch together.
For more on NRL, or to find an event in your area. check out their website.