Middle School News

Remotely Together: Sharkbytes Build a Robot in a Remote Environment
Judith Worrall, middle school writing teacher & communications team member

The finished robot, pictured above, showing the intake and chassis.

This is an unusual year, so it makes sense that Nueva’s middle school robotics team—Sharkbytes—would find itself encountering unique challenges. While FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) team captain Lucy D. was building the chassis, build team lead James T. was working on the flywheel launcher, Jason C. was busy creating the intake, and Howard L. and Anton P. were building the wobble arm. This was life for the Sharkbytes, who worked together remotely to design, build, and program a robot for the 2020–21 FTC competition.

The FIRST Tech Challenge is a robotics competition for students in grades 7 through–12, where teams compete head to head by designing, building, and programming a robot. In addition to a game challenge—in which, among other tasks, the robots must autonomously shoot rings in a target—FTC judges award additional team honors for teams that demonstrate important values, including teamwork, creativity, innovation, and the value of the engineering design process receive awards. (In March 2020, Nueva FTC the Promote Award.) Because students across a wide range of grade levels are eligible to compete, the Nueva middle school team often finds itself competing against very big, and sometimes bearded, high school seniors! 

“Competing against high schoolers is a huge and awesome challenge for our students,” said I-Lab shop manager Christine Braun, who, along with Brad Hoge, serve as faculty advisors for FTC. 

From the start of the school year, the FTC team meets twice each week during the school day and after school on Wednesdays. What was most impressive for this 2020–2021 season was that the team was able to design and build a robot while working remotely. The Nueva Flex return to campus coincidentally happened at the same time the team was ready to assemble the robot, so team members had an opportunity to finish their build and work on programming the robot in the final week before the competition. Teams typically have a few weeks to program the robot, so this year’s remote environment posed a particular challenge for students.

“Being remote this season certainly posed a very unique challenge for our team!” said eighth-grader Ethan C., who worked on the CAD (computer-aided design) sub-team. “My teammate Ryker and I were likely less affected by being remote than the other teams, because we did a lot of 3D modeling on Fusion 360. It was still a challenge, though, because to model certain parts of the robot accurately, we needed precise dimensions, which were often hard to clarify remotely.”

Technology helped solve some of the logistics challenges team members faced. They spent many meetings over Zoom using the collaborative software, Figma, to strategize their build.  The CAD team also used Fusion 360 software to design and print the team’s parts. Fusion 360 helped the CAD students facilitate the creation of necessary parts, having them queued up to print as soon as a member of the build or program team needed a part.  

They made mecanum wheels, flywheels, intake, and much more! And the program team worked to create an autonomous program, where the robot operates on its own. The programmers also created the driver program which ensures each mechanism built by the build team works according to its design. 

“The students completely blew me away,” Christine said. “The fact that the build team built all of the parts individually in their own homes—with assistance from the CAD team to make anything they needed—and then the three programmers brought the program together is incredible! It took everyone working hard. It was simply awesome!”

While the chassis team was finalizing the design, the CAD team also modeled the mecum wheels.

In addition to learning to design, build, and program a robot, the FTC team learns a variety of other skills that will be helpful as they move through school and beyond. 

“This program is outside of the regular school program, so team members learn how to set up fundraisers and seek out sponsors,” Christine shared. “As part of the FTC program, students are also responsible for keeping an engineering notebook, which documents everything the team has done in regards to the build, fundraising, outreach, upreach, and team dynamics. So they learn to work together to document all of the aspects of the team.”

To see the robot in action, click here.

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