Fly to the USA and back with this year 8 RoboCat and see what it’s like to compete in the student robotics world championships!
Hi! My name is Charlotte Keane. I am in Year 8 at an all-girls school in Melbourne. This is my second year of competing in the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). I belong to the Melbourne RoboCats, which is an all girls team based at Swinburne University’s innovation Precinct.
For the robotics comp, we RoboCats had to build an industrial robot in six weeks that was able to climb a rope, collect gears and transport them an airship. Our robot is rather large and weighs about 55kgs. There are 17 members in the RoboCats and we shared the jobs that needed to be done, which included: designing the RoboCat logo; designing, developing and testing the climbing mechanism known as the gear slide; programming the robot, and working on the robot’s electronics and bumpers. My role in the team was mainly working on the bumpers and coding the joystick.
We competed in Sydney in the South Pacific Regional Competition which was held in Sydney in March. We first competed in practice games and then the qualification matches. After the qualification matches, the top eight teams picked two other teams to form an alliance. We were lucky enough to be chosen by the Barker Redbacks and Thunder Down Under teams. After a series of games our alliance made it all the way through to the finals. As we were joint winners of the competition, we were offered a place at the World Championships in April in Houston, Texas!
I have learnt a lot whilst being part of this program, ranging from how to use different materials and tools such as screw drivers, spanners to working with team members who I have never worked with before. I learnt the importance of designing, building, testing, programming, health and safety and documentation. I also learnt that it is important to be able to communicate my ideas clearly, which is a skill that will come handy as I get older.
First impressions of the world championships
I am at the FRC World Championships in Houston. My first impressions of the event is that it is huge with lots of people! With over 600 teams from across the world, the competition is divided into separate divisions so that the competition is manageable.
The first important task we had to do was get the robot out of the delivery crate and make sure it worked after being freighted from Australia. Unfortunately, our robot’s radio telecommunication wasn’t functioning during our one and only practice match prior to the qualifying matches. The problem was that it had not been connected to the venue’s Wi-Fi.
One of the RoboCats, Ebony, thinks that the competition in Houston is very different from the competition in Sydney. In Sydney, the competition was friendly and the teams were not all focused on winning, but giving it a go. In Houston, it seems like most teams are very serious about winning.
There is not much time to have fun like we did in Sydney, where we could dance impromptu, have a good laugh and hang out with all the other teams. Having said this, we have been exposed to a new level of competition, and have seen how different teams work collaboratively and how they brand and market themselves. We are very excited and learning a lot by being part of the student robotics world championships.
Getting used to a different approach
The trip to the FRC Championships in Houston was exciting and enjoyable. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I had never been invited to a championship before. I wasn’t sure what the venue would be like, or how many people would be attending.
Being in the regional competition in Sydney was very different to being in the championships in Houston. Having around 40 teams in Sydney compared to 400 teams in the Houston was the major difference. It was fascinating to see the differences in terms of how the competition was divided into 6 divisions, and there were so many teams all in one section where the pits were.
Another major difference was how the teams communicated with each other. In Sydney, we knew of the other Australian teams from the South Pacific Regionals, so we would talk to each other and cheer each other on. But given there were competitors from all over the world in Houston, we did not have the same camaraderie with the other teams.
Our team – the Melbourne RoboCats – is special. The thing I like the most about our team is how we share the workload and we take turns on the drive team so that everyone feels included and can have a go. Some of the more competitive teams keep the same people on the drive team, but we like to make sure that everyone in our team feels they are contributing.
One of the things I did not like about the championships was the limited number of practice fields they had. We had a few problems early on in the competition and wanted to have some time and space to see if the fixes we did on our robot worked. However, as there were limited practice fields, we could not easily access them.
Looking ahead to what’s next
I will be returning to the Melbourne RoboCats to compete in the FRC next year. I really would like to encourage more girls to be part of this competition and also join the Melbourne RoboCats. To do this, I have been invited to speak at my school assembly and I will be talking about what we did. I look forward to any opportunity to demonstrate our robot and talk at events. We have a website, a Facebook page and we will look to having a Twitter account very soon.
– Charlotte Keane
Author: STEM Contributor
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