On Feb. 28, the Freeman branch of the Harris County public library held a grand opening of their Jocelyn H. Lee Innovation lab which is intended to be a free makerspace for the public. Because our team meets in the library and hopes to use some of their equipment, the library invited us (and CreatorSpace, a local makerspace club) to set up booths to promote our activities. The team was able to interact with many people of all ages. We know of at least two families that learned of FIRST robotics through our booth, came to our robotics workshops we held later in the summer, and now are planning to be part of a rookie FLL team competing fall 2015. Through this event, we were able to start sparks of interest in the growing minds of many youngsters.
Apr.4-5, George R Brown in Houston hosted the FIRST Robotics Challenge Lone Star Regional competition. The team was asked by the local FTC reps to staff an FTC booth which included a full competition floor set-up plus 2-3 robots - ours, Cybersharks, and Gearnotics (7170). We stayed at the booth all afternoon on Apr. 5 visiting with many families, teachers, and other visitors to promote FIRST robotics. While we primarily spoke about FTC, we almost told interested visitors about Jr. FLL and FLL.
The Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center coordinates an international student underwater robotics (remotely operated vehicle or ROV) competition and a network of 21 regional ROV contests that take place across U.S. and other countries.. On April 25, MATE held their annual Texas Regional at the NASA Neutral Buoyancy Lab, NASA Sonny Carter Facility. Our team was available to help as general volunteers (mostly crowd control and directing people to the judging rooms), and it also gave us an opportunity to check out a robotics area that is much different than our own land-based robots.
CreatorSpace is a local area makerspace club for which members pay a fee for the use of the facility and equipment. We had the opportunity to meet the team at the library’s Innovation Lab grand opening, and spoke with the club regarding being mentors for our team. They invited us and FTC 8821, The Ball Wifflers, to attend one of their open house nights for which most of the members were in attendance.
When we arrived, we were given a tour of all the projects and tools in the area, followed by our presentation. Nick talked about the programming and mechanical aspects of the team while Matthew described the notebook and Outreach aspects. After the presentation, we had a short Q/A session. It was nice to have a lot of people asking us some more advanced questions. We couldn’t even answer some of them! At the end we let them inspect the robot and ask additional questions. Several of the members expressed great interest in being mentors for our teams for the upcoming season. They also offered us a low priced membership fee to use their facility.
In Fall 2014, Nick began meeting with a small group of five 4th-5th grade boys interested in learning how to build robots using the LEGO EV3 robot. Throughout the fall, Nick met with the boys teaching them how to build and program with the EV3. In January, the group decided they wanted to compete in some local robotics competition and chose Ecobot as a good rookie venture. With the help of Coach Belbas, Nick was the mentor and youth coach for the young team. They really enjoyed the competition and actually ended up in the top ⅓ of the teams at the competition. The team was also thrilled to be interviewed by FOX 26.
On May 21, we were invited to travel to Freeport with Team 8821 and representatives from FIRST LEGO League, FIRST Tech Challenge, and FIRST Robotics Competition to present to DOW employees the benefits of supporting FIRST. DOW has decided to make a substantial grant to FIRST and was setting up these meetings to communicate to both DOW employees and local teachers how they could also support FIRST. There were two presentations: the first was to about 20 DOW employees, and the second was attended by over 60 local school teachers. Along with 8821, we were able to present info about how to start a new FTC team. Many people were very interested and asked a lot of questions.
On May 31, Gulf Coast Christian Home Scholars (GCCHS), a homeschool support group, held a large exposition and conference for homeschoolers around our area. We purchased a booth space in order to promote FIRST robotics. We were incredibly swamped with parents interested in robotics for their children - from Jr. FLL all the way through FRC. We collected a long list of names of FLL and Jr. FLL interested parents which we passed on to the area FLL coordinator. To grab people’s attention, we set up an FLL table table to allow kids to drive little NXT robots, and we had an autonomous EV3 robot and our previous year’s FTC robot driving around all over the expo.
Because of the strong interest in FLL at the expo, we decided to host a few FLL camps both as outreach and as a fundraiser for our season. We rented four EV3 robots and four laptops from an FLL coach and used the same syllabus plan as he had prepared for his workshop. We limited the class to eight students to keep no more than two students per robot. In summary, Nick, Joel, Gavin, and Mrs. Belbas hosted one 12 hour (over four days) workshop attended by 7 students. In addition, Nick and Mrs. Belbas hosted an 8 week long workshop (total of 12 hours) attended by 8 students.
Error 404 helped the students learn simple EV3 programing, building simple EV3 LEGO robot attachments, Gracious Professionalism, and important teamwork skills. They also learned much about gear ratios and the rules of FLL. On the last day of class a short competition took place on the FLL 2014 board. After camp finished all 7 of the students wanted to join a robotics team of some kind.
As part outreach and part fundraising, the team conducted three workshops during the summer. The first workshop was for kids aged 9-13 to learn 3D modeling using the web-based TinkerCAD program. During this 3 hour class, the 10 students were taught how to make a simple keychain with their initials and how to make a pencil holder box. After giving them some “free build” time to create whatever they wanted, we also showed them how to use MakerBot software to prep their models to be printed on the MakerBot 3D printers at the Freeman Public Library in the Innovation lab. Some of the students enjoyed this class enough that they also signed up for the Autodesk Inventor workshop we held later in the week.
On December 16, our team was invited to give a public presentation of our robot’s capabilities at Jacobs Engineering. We set up a field in the facility’s lobby, moved the ramp from our workspace to the field, and proceeded to demonstrate all the things our robot could do at that point. Employees of Jacobs came from all the levels of the facility to observe our robot as we drove it around the ramp, picked up debris and dropped it in the boxes on the ramp, ascended and descended the ramp, deposited the climbers into the beacon bucket, and offered fistbumps. We explained anything that the engineers were interested in learning, showed them our engineering notebook, and gave them a synopsis of our season so far.
A second workshop we taught during the summer was how to use Autodesk Inventor Professional 2015 to create 3D models that could be printed on a 3D printer. In this 6 hour workshop, the 6 students in the class were taught to model the puzzle cube illustrated in the photo below. They were taught how to create each part from scratch as well as how to assemble the pieces into the final cube puzzle. Also, the students were shown how to use MakerBot software to print their models for printing on a 3D printer such as the MakerBot printers at the Harris County Public Library Innovation Lab.
On March 5th, our team (along with members of our mentored FLL teams, Resistance is Futile and Thunderbolts) had a booth at the 2016 Gulf Coast Christian Home Scholars Expo, where we promoted every level of FIRST, as well as practice pit area setup and judge interviews in the pit. We had multiple people come over to sign up for FLL and CAD workshops that we will be hosting this summer. To help catch the attention of onlookers, we had two fields set up, one small foam area for a drivable mock-up FTC robot, and an FLL Trash Trek table with Thunderbolts’ lego robot running.
On April 8th, we presented at UTC Aerospace Company to thank them for sponsoring us this season. With an audience of about 15-20 UTC employees, we discussed our robot design and performance. After our coach introduced us with a general overview of FIRST Robotics, every team member went through specific aspects of the team according to their role. During the presentation, the engineers were very intrigued and interested by the robot, the notebook, and the CAD work that we have done throughout the season. After the presentation was over, we had around 7 of the engineers asking questions and observing the notebook, boards, robot, and video presentations.
On April 9th, team members took shifts working the FTC booth at the George R. Brown FRC Lone Star Regional. Team members came for the early shift, where they managed the FTC Res-Q field, as well as attracting other people to the display. We had people intrigued by the display, as they wanted to start a robotics team, but FRC was far too expensive. The members working the late shift had to leave early, as the owner of the field had to leave. However, they were still able to answer questions in the time that they were available.