Six weeks. That's all the time Marysville, Ohio USFIRST Robotics Club (FRC) had to build a robot from scratch. Not only was the group of 21 high school students able to accomplish this feat, they learned a lot in the process. Now they are ready to face a new challenge - an upcoming USFIRST competition. Marysville FRC will compete in the Buckeye Regional FRC competition held April 7-9 in Cleveland, Ohio.
RobotWorx is a strong advocate of STEM and robotics education. It is our privilege to support the efforts of this local USFIRST team. In the following interview club member Isaac Luther talks about the club, the impact of USFIRST and robotics education, and shares details about the robot he helped build.
RobotWorx: Who serves as the club's mentors and sponsors?
Luther: The main mentors come from Honda of America Manufacturing and Engineering. Our two lead mentors are David Burge and Josh Kramer. Some of our other sponsors include: JCPenny, NASA, Honda, Fulton County Processing, Global Security Tech, Piedmont Plastics, and Monarch Pizza.
RobotWorx: How did the club start?
Luther: FRC started out when Dave Burge asked his oldest son (a current junior), Devin, what he wanted to do when he grew up. Devin responded, "Well I want to be an engineer." Dave wanted to see his son become an engineer and become involved in programs to promote his chances of going to an engineering school. Dave and Devin both looked at the co-curricular activities offered by Marysville Schools and saw that there is nothing to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).
Dave did some research and found this program called FRC. He discussed it with his work associates who mentor other teams, and then brought it to the school board. The school board was interested in seeing a program such as FRC develop in the school system. So Dave was brought on as the founder and head mentor of the Marysville FRC team.
RobotWorx: Why do you think studying robotics is valuable?
Luther: I think the study of robotics should be taught in the same class as history. Ironic, I know. But schools focus on what happened in the past, but where is the future taking us? We are taught that the founding fathers created our government and the US seems to get involved in everyone's problems. But look at our future, so many tasks are being automated and even replaced by machines. All the meaningless tasks, like screwing a cap on a bottle on a conveyor. That's all just static right now, what's going to happen when the robots can think on their own?
Everyone is all excited about robotics, and that's great. But what's going to happen when John Doe loses his job because a robot can do it faster, more accurate, and in the long run, cheaper? Now it would be a different situation if Joe could say, "Hey, you don't want to fire me because I know how to fix that machine when it breaks." People who learn about robotics will be ready when the world begins seeing robots in the mainstream public. But all of that's coming from a person who would rather have a robot vacuum his floors.
RobotWorx: What are the main challenges for the club, especially with regard to this event?
Luther: Our game challenge is the same as the FRC challenge teams across the world. This is the 20th anniversary of USFIRST (For Inspiration of Science and Technology). Our game challenge is to take inflatable inner tubes that resemble the USFIRST logo and hang them on a pegged wall across the field. It's pretty cool. There are many other sub challenges that encompass the game. (Check out the USFIRST 2011 game animation)
But the game challenge wasn't even half the battle. Being a "rookie" team, we had no idea what to do. We started back in September, and at that first meeting I guarantee no one expected all of our hardships. And I don't think we would have had as many issues except for the fact we only had 6 weeks to build our robot. So when we asked for something we were really nice, but it had to happen then. I won't complain about all of our issues. Instead, I will thank a few people in our school system that truly understand the ideals of USFIRST. These individuals took a two-week process and shortened the turnaround time to less than two days! These are the people that truly contribute to USFIRST, without ever touching any tools.
RobotWorx: Tell us a little bit about the robot Marysville FRC built.
Luther: Our robot is comical to look at. But as soon as it turns on, it is very evident that it means business. Our robot, dubbed "Wilson" was equipped with a 12-pound, aluminum rotating arm and claw assembly. And the first time we turned on the claw, I am quite sure that claw could rotate at about 120rpm. Needless to say, we eventually got it slowed down to a more controllable 3rpm. (Check out the Marysville FRC YouTube channel for videos of Wilson)
RobotWorx: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Luther: Yes. FRC is hands down the best program I have ever had the opportunity to take part in. And for everyone thinking, "I don't like robots" or "I don't know anything about machines or computers," don't use that as an excuse not to give the program a chance. FRC is not just about the robots. In fact it's an extremely well rounded program.
Instead of First Robotics Competition, it should be USFirst Robotics Corporation. We need everything that a company needs. A current senior came up and told me, "I don't know anything about robots, but I do know financial management." And I think she has been busier than some people actually building the robot. There is so much more than just a robot. It takes everyone doing jobs that aren't typically associated with robotics, let alone a high school organization.
Curious to see how Wilson the robot fares in Cleveland? Check back for more exciting news about the Marysville USFIRST Robotics Club.