FIRST Robotics Rookie All-Star Team Gets a Taste for Competition

Jessica Desmond, a recent participant in FIRST Robotics, interned this summer at PTC. I caught up with Jess to ask her about her FIRST experiences. In the first of this two-part interview, Jess talks about her team’s initial contest in Boston, MA.

How did you become involved with FIRST Robotics?

It all started at the beginning of my sophomore year of high school, we got a new electronics teacher, Mr. B. He had been teaching at Lynn Tech and helped start their robotics team. Mr. B brought the idea to Nashoba Valley Tech, my school, and Team 3466 – the V.I. Kings, was born.

What role do you play on the team?

During our rookie year, I was the only girl on the team and in the electronics/robotics technical area. Mr. B’s electronics students made up most of the team the first year, but no one knew how a FIRST team was supposed to run. That is, until the mentors decided to take a step back and let us figure it out for ourselves. After sitting around for about an hour, I thought we were just wasting our time and grabbed a marker. I guess that was the day I unofficially became the team captain.

What mistakes did you make as a rookie team?

As the season progressed, we made a lot of mistakes in both the design of the robot and the design of the team, such as neglecting to build prototypes and assigning leadership positions to people who didn’t do their job. I was the Build Team captain, led all captains’ meetings, and kept the notes from every sub-team.

Because we only had six weeks to build the robot, we stayed at school every night until 8pm, came in on the weekends, and worked on our shop weeks (weeks spent in our technical areas instead of academic classes).

Even given the extra time to work during school and a veteran mentor, nothing could really prevent us from making a lot of mistakes as first-timers.

What did you learn on the team?

Besides the robot, we also needed to focus on how much our team members were learning about FIRST and the different skills we needed. So we took time to teach every member.

At dinner, Mr. B would quiz us, asking things like, “Who was the founder of FIRST? When was it founded?” But also questions such as, “What is a PWM cable?” and “What does a spike relay do?”

I noticed that since I had been living and breathing FIRST, even though we hadn’t been doing any official electronics/robotics shop work, I’d learned more about the industry than our class labs could have taught me.

What was the Boston regional competition like?

When we got to Boston, our robot was a prototype, equipped with wood instead of being durably built. At the competition, almost everything that could go wrong with the robot did. We missed all our practice matches, so our drivers had no experience.

Some matches we were sitting ducks because the robot wouldn’t connect to the field or just wouldn’t start; and one match in particular proved why using a prototype was a bad idea.

A gear that held the entire arm and claw had broken and been replaced so many times that we decided to give it some help by using silicon tubing. This did help, until the gear completely snapped and we essentially had a 30-lb slingshot. However, we managed to keep the team together and we fixed the robot in time for the next match.

So, was it worth all the hard work?

Even though we made so many mistakes, regarding both the robot and the team, we still managed to work together and put in the effort we needed. I think this is why the judges awarded us the Rookie All-Star in Boston for 2011.

When they called our name, I was so excited, especially to see that it was all worth it. We walked up to receive the award and shake hands with the judges; it was my job to hand one of our team shirts to Woody Flowers so he could see our motto on the back of it.

As we got back to our seats, I was shaking so badly because that was what we had been working toward – becoming a team and showing it. Plus, we were now going to championships!

Learn more about how you can become a mentor or sponsor of FIRST Robotics.

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