The Value of the Engineering Process
11 January 2019
The Servo Power Module arrived, and Dell and Brandon worked to get it installed and wired up. Yes,
it works -- not just the power module, but the whole robot. There are still some tweaks that need to
be made to the code, but the issues are minor. In testing the robot, we did discover one issue related
to the build: one REV 40:1 motor is not sufficient to power the turntable bearing that lifts the robot
arm and claw. Fortunately, the turntable bearing can accept two motors. To mount the second motor,
some cutting needed to be done, but it fits rather well. Once we have it wired up, we should be good
This points out the value of adhering to the engineering design process. While the students often
complain that the coaching staff insists that students follow the process, it does pay off in the end.
Often, students just want to pull some parts out of the bin and begin building right away. When they
do, they begin an endless cycle of building, unbuilding and rebuilding -- we’ve seen it before.
Instead, we slow the students down requiring them to: develop a Design Brief; create concept sketches;
evaluate concepts using Decision Matrices; and create dimensioned technical sketches before they
begin building. Additionally, we require that students build components rather than a singular robot.
This way, we can test components without having to wait for the entire robot to be finished. What
this meant in the end was that only two small components needed modification: the turntable bearing
mentioned previously, and the material used to create an arm locking mechanism.
Of course, how the robot performs in tournament conditions is unknown. However, we know we did the
best engineering work that we can do, and that is a lesson well learned.
21 December 2018
Once the team was placed in tournaments, we worked backward and established some deadlines for
when all of the construction and the bulk of the coding needed to be complete. The purpose of the
deadlines qwas to ensure that we had at least two weeks of driving practice and autonomous testing.
To be competition ready on January 12th, the deadline was December 14th; to compete on January 19th,
the deadline is today. Unfortunately, we missed the first deadline and withdrew from the January
12th event. The team was predictably disappointed, but it did spur them to hit today’s deadline.
Just one rub: they decided to use two VEX 393 motors for their rack and pinion lift, but did not
realize that they needed a Servo Power Module. One has been ordered, and it should arrive between
Christmas and New Year. Looks like we will need to have some students come in during the break.
16 November 2018
It’s been 10 weeks since the Kick-off event on September 8th, and the team has hit a major snag -
many roboticists have joined winter sports teams and no longer have the time to work on finishing the
robot. Our individual build teams have finished two chassis, two lifts, two claw/hook assemblies, and
two marker deployment subsystems. Most have been tested individually, but we are more than two-weeks behind
where our Gantt chart says we need to be. We still have to integrate components into a single robot, do testing,
and give our drivers time to practice. We have the holidays to contend with. The weather could cause a different
kind of stoppage. We are cutting it fine, but if anything does not operate as designed (and when does that ever
happen?), we may miss the season. We should know for sure by mid-December.
What We Learn in Workshops
26 October 2018
As a team that has been in existence for five years and is intrinsically tied to our engineering curriculum,
our motivation to attend workshops may be a bit different than the motivations for other teams. I like to look
at our journey as a team to a journey East.
We can fly out of JFK in Queens, land at Heathrow, look back and think about how far east we have gone. We
can then turn around, look east, and see that there is more East to go. So we hop on another plane and travel to
Beijing and marvel at how far east we’ve gone only to realize once again that there is still more East to go.
And even after we land back at JFK having travelled around the world, and still there is more East to go.
Our team’s journey is one of continual improvement. Students pass along what knowledge they accumulated to
new team members and to other teams, and we go to workshops to learn from more experienced teams or simply teams
that may have a different approach.
The story of our triangle bot is a good example. A number of years ago, we saw a very inexperienced team build
a robot with a triangular chassis and three wheels all facing in the same direction. It could go forward and backward,
but couldn’t turn. While the robot had limited function, it was creative. Could our team take the idea and really make
it work? With a little bit of research, we found that three wheels was the minimum number to create a holonomic robot.
It took some ingenuity, a bit of code and a lot of math, but we did it.
You never know where the next good idea will come from.
15 August 2018
The ethe of FIRST is better aligned with the school’s mission, and with the mission of Masters
Engineering and Robotics program which is “To fulfill the educational objectives of robotics as a practical
expression and extension of Masters’ engineering program.” With the changes being made to the REC Foundation
and the VEX Robotics Competition program, VEX is no longer in keeping with that mission.
FIRST uses the same engineering design process that we use in our engineering program, and FIRST requires
every team to keep at detailed engineering notebook.
The coding platform for FIRST is aligned to our Computer Science Principles and Computer Science
Applications sequence. The new VEX Coding Studio, still under development, currently only supports C++ and
‘ModBlocks’ which is not compatible with our engineering program nor is it the same as the program we have
been using for robotics. Future plans for VEX Coding Studio may include compilers for RobotC, Python and/or
Coaches are encouraged to be a part of the FIRST process with the students to promote greater learning.
VEX strictly limits adult involvement in all but few circumstances.
FIRST offers many local workshops for students to learn from industry experts, and other teams and
coaches. VEX does not offer educational workshops.
FIRST offers more scholarship opportunities to students then does VEX/REC.
In FIRST, all coaches, mentors, volunteers, judges, and referees must be over the age of 21, must be
trained in FIRST’s Youth Protection Program, and must be screened every 3 years. VEX has no such age
requirement, training program or screening requirements.
FIRST is organized and run by regional Affiliate Partners. In the Hudson Valley Region, Rick Kline from
Pace University’s Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems is the Affiliate Partner. On
the regional level, VEX is organized and run by volunteers – mostly the coaches retired coaches and parents
from league schools. The only business professional is the REC Foundation coordinator who is responsible for
all of New York State, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.
The mission of FIRST Robotics “is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by
engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that
inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication,
and leadership.” FIRST’s programs are clearly focused on the educational aspects of robotics. This makes
FIRST the most appropriate program for our school.
All parts from the VEX system, except some electronics and pneumatics can be used in FIRST Tech. The
competition field that we own is also compliant with FIRST Tech guidelines.
VEX parts can only be purchased from VEX Robotics or its licensed resellers (with no difference in price)
while supplies last. Many companies (REV, Tenergy, Motorola, Andymark, Modernrobotics, etc.) sell
their own parts that are FIRST Tech approved. This ensures that parts are always available. VEX parts come
from a single supplier and are not always available when needed.