Robotics teams troubleshoot for upcoming competitions
Think of it like "Take Your Child to Work Day," only your child is a robot that you're working on.
On Sunday, Jan. 28, DWFritz — an automations company in Wilsonville — hosted "Bring Your Problem to Work Day" for several FIRST Robotics Competition and FIRST Tech Challenge teams in the Portland metro area. One Vex-IQ team also joined the group — an entry-level robotics program for elementary and middle school children to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
All 10 FRC and FTC teams that applied were awarded $1,000 grants and were able to network with fellow robotics teams and professionals from DWFritz that specialized in different areas.
"Our goal is not only to help teams monetarily, but also help them with troubleshooting issues with their robots," said Bhaskar Ramakrishnan, technical sales engineer with DWFritz.
The first "Bring Your Problem to Work Day" was in November during the robotics build season for younger children.
Now, with the robotics season well underway — FTC teams started competing in November and FRC teams are past the halfway mark in the six-week building stage — DWFritz employees who had a direct connection to the robotics teams by way of mentoring wanted to host another event.
"I never had this opportunity when I was in school and to see what the kids are capable of and watch them grow through the four years — they come in as freshman (and) often times they're just learning," said Tom Somerville, mentor for Error Code Xero, Wilsonville's FRC team. "By the time they're seniors, they're confident, capable leaders, they know what they're doing and that's just an incredible experience to watch."
The Error Code Xero team — which has about 60 students registered from both Wilsonville and West Linn, and about 15 mentors and active parents — weren't able to haul their robot to DWFritz because of its large size (FTC robots are smaller) so they brought their software robot instead.
"This particular robot has no function during the actual season. It's mainly there as a test bed for our software students to be able to load code onto something and test out different functionality throughout the year," Somerville said. "For the software robot, we can't just take code off here and put it onto our competition robot, but (students) are using the same code libraries and everything else that they'll use on the competition robot. It's a great way for them to learn what it is they need to do to program their competition robot."
But being a part of the team doesn't just mean engineering the robot. There is also a marketing aspect as well. West Linn High School sophomore Helena Brehl is the team's business and marketing lead.
"I've always really enjoyed creating something and competing," said Brehl, who is also the team's videographer. "I've never been a sports type person (so) this is kind of something more my league."
One aspect that Wilsonville High School junior Tristan Cavarno enjoys is networking with other teams.
At the beginning of the event, each team shared areas they could help others in and areas they still had questions for with their own robots.
"What's nice here is we can come talk to other teams, get some knowledge they have and share some of the knowledge we have," Cavarno said. "Because we are a team that has been around for a little while, we do have a mentor base and a student base that can help share our knowledge and it's really good to get out in the community."
Lake Oswego's FRC team, the Lake Monsters, used this time to network with Error Code Xero before the FRC competitions begin early March.
"I think this event is really cool because it's a chance for teams to talk to each other about the upcoming game. For instance, the end game in this year's game with the climbing is taking place on a really small bar, so being able to talk to other teams about how they plan to approach it and how you're going to be able to fit multiple robots on to a one-foot bar," said senior Matthew Martin from Lakeridge High School, who's been involved with robotics all four years of high school. "I really like robotics because it's very fun problem solving a lot of real world challenges you encounter, which is mentally invigorating."
Shawn Boling, project manager at DWFritz, sees the real-world connection as well, especially with STEM.
"If we can help (students) be successful in STEM it's only going to help us; it will help our local economy; it's going to help our national economy because they are going to bring things to the table that we never even thought of," Boling said. "Our goal is to expand the program so we can bring more teams in from the Portland area and then at some point, maybe through the state, but we are so spread out it's kind of hard."