Every year, www.firstinspires.org comes up with a new theme for the season. As a FIRST Tech Challenge team, students will design and build a robot to perform the tasks related to the theme. After the task is announced by FIRST, the team will get together to plan and design the robot. We will assemble the playing field, and then we will create the robot. We typically split into multiple groups, to focus on multiple aspects of the robot. However, the robot is not the only part of FTC. There are actually four important parts of FTC:
The Robot: The robot will have to fit in a 18 inches by 18 inches by 18 inches box. Robot construction has a lot more freedom compared to FLL. You can use plastic, metal, 3d printed components, etc.. Robots are required to do certain tasks which are based on themes present every FTC season. There’s lots of ways you can build a robot. You can make drawings, 3d models, or use CAD (computer aided design) to design robots. And when it comes time to build you can use multiple parts, 3d printed parts, or other technical components. For example, last year’s theme was sports. Thus, the robot had to shoot rings into holes in towers, similar to a basketball game. You can use motors and sensors to do the task at the max efficiency.
The Game: One of the most fun parts of the season comes from the robot game. The first 30 seconds are autonomous. There is no human influence during these 30 seconds. You have to program the robot to do certain tasks during that time with very high precision and speed. However, in the later 2 minutes of the game, you and a teammate pick up controllers, to remote control the robot. Now you can use the controllers to do the tasks. It's kind of like a video game!
The Program: Another big part of making the robot is the programming. We use Java programming on Android Studio to program the robot. We use many complex algorithms, like an algorithm to detect the amount of objects ahead of the robot. By using code from Vuforia, a company that develops augmented reality technology, and TensorFlow, a form of machine learning, we are able to make very advanced programs which work efficiently and consistently. Programming is essential to make the robot work.
The Engineering Notebook: A component that can really help you in a career is the engineering notebook. It is important to keep track of what you did during the FTC season, as this is how judges will rate your team at the end of the year. Keeping organized and descriptive is not only a useful skill in the competition, but also in real life.
Skills You will Learn and Benefits: Not only does FTC focus on robotics, but also many useful life skills. You have to work with other teams during the robot game. It requires teamwork with not only your teammates, but other teams. People you might be competing with. Coordinating with other teams is a skill you will use in workspaces, and FTC is an excellent place to learn all about it. All in all, FTC is an excellent competition, not only teaching STEM skills in a fun and meaningful way, but also teaches numerous soft skills, like teamwork, coordination, and sportsmanship, that can help people further their careers later in life.