Day 8: FIRST Tech Challenge

So I’ve been volunteering at a local high school’s robotics club for the past few months, and its been really interesting and informative. They are preparing to compete in the FTC tournament soon. One of the reasons that I decided to help with this club is because honestly, I’m kind of jealous. I went to high school in a very rural area and there were minimal opportunities for extracurriculars in mathematics and science. So I guess part of it is living vicariously a bit, but I also volunteered to help the students learn and get interested in a technological discipline.

The task that their robot must perform for the competition is, to put it simply, to pick up plastic rings from around a course and place them on a coat-hanger style rack in the middle of the course. Hanging rings higher or in certain patterns garners more points. Of course, there are other little things that one can do to gain points (One even involves completely lifting another robot off the ground!) but that is the main point of the competition. So they have been working on ideas for how to build something that can accomplish these tasks quickly and accurately.

They’ve been using the LEGO Mindstorms kit along with the Tetrix parts (also compatible with the NXT). I must admit, I am impressed by what these kids have been coming up with. It’s really cool to hear them tell me their ideas and then go and try them out. They currently have a robotic arm that can raise up and down to perform a task in the competition. The design and implementation has been all on them. While a few are doing it just as a thing to do after school, I’ve seen some real standouts. Several of the people I’ve been working with are very bright and motivated, and looking at going to college for a tech/engineering field. It makes me feel good to know that I worked with these people and helped them grow in their knowledge and confidence.

I’m looking forward to attending the competition (I think its in February) and seeing how my team performs. All in all, its been a really cool experience and I only wish I had the chance to do something like that when I was in high school.

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