FIRST is a national organization whose mission is to spur interest in science and technology through robotics. High school students learn through participation in FIRST Robotics Competitions (FRC), where student teams build robots that compete in various challenges. There are thousands of FIRST teams throughout the world; each team is assigned a number; Atholton's team, the Space RAIDers is team number 2537.

FIRST Competitions Each year, FIRST releases a new challenge and FRC teams build robots to meet that challenge. The challenge is released via an official kickoff which reveals the challenge details and competition rules. Each team then has 6 weeks to build a robot that meets the challenge. The finished robots then enter Local, Regional, and National events where they compete to see which robots best met the challenge. Competitions are 2-3 day events with local competitions held in high-school gymnasiums, regional competitions held in university stadiums, and national competitions held in convention centers in St. Louis. The competitions are the culmination of the season and are big deals; the best way to understand what an FRC competition is like is to watch one. Competitions start with many qualifying matches where teams compete for points; the teams with the most points proceed to quarter, semi, and final matches until a winner is declared. Each match consists of 6 teams split into two "alliances" (red and blue) with each alliance consisting of 3 robots; the robots then play 3 vs. 3. The red and blue sides compete for points according to the specific rules of the competition. Each match consists of two phases: "autonomous" where the robot operates completely under software control with no human intervention and "teleop" where the robot is controlled by a human driver using wireless communications (like a remote-control car). During qualification matches, teams are assigned, but during quarter, semi-final, and final matches, alliances are formed by the competing teams and strategy and negotiation for forming become very important.

FIRST Season The AHS team meets from the early Fall through late Spring; the season is divided into:

  • Pre-Season (Sep-Dec): Fall meetings are typically once-per-week and are referred to as the "pre-season"; during this time, students train (prepare) for the competition: new students are taught fundamental skills; for example, new Control Systems students are introduced to Java, sensors, and the robot environment; returning students set up the IT environment, team structure, and execute technical challenges. There are also two off-season competitions: IROC and Battle of Baltimore (aka BoB) that take place in the pre- or "off" season using the robot build in the prior year.
  • Build-Season (Jan-Feb): In early January, FIRST announces the details of the competition for this year in "the reveal" aka Kick-off. After kick-off, teams have 6 weeks to build their competition robot after which they must stop work and "bag" it (bagging literally means placing the robot in a giant plastic bag and sealing the bag). At the kick-off, a video and several .pdf handbooks are released with details of the game and a very large set of rules. The students and mentors spend a day studying the competition and rules and then break into groups to brainstorm potential robot solutions. The students present their ideas to each other and then select the best ideas from each group for their robot design. During 6-week build-season, the team meets very frequently; typically 3-times after school during the week and both weekend days. The team splits into groups that work on different aspects of the robot such as the drive-train, targeting systems, manipulators, etc.. By the end of the build season, the competition robot has been built, programmed, and test driven extensively. NOTE: you should expect and plan for at least a week of the school being closed due to snow - students (especially those working on software and sensors) should be prepared to work from home during these closures.
  • Extended-Build-Season (Mar-Apr): Once the robot has been bagged, students may (and should) continue to develop robot features and capabilities. This is typically done using a second robot that had been built during the build season for this purpose or using other development tools. During this time, students can refine software, perform additional testing, and even make small mechanical elements (e.g. constructing or altering parts) that they can later place on the robot when it is un-bagged for competition (there is a weight limit on what can be added to the robot so you can't just keep working and bring a whole new robot, but you might be able to replace a mechanism or part of a mechanism); software and sensor changes are virtually unlimited. Extended build-season may be many weeks and encompasses all of the time between bag and the last competition.
  • Post-Season (Apr-Jun): after the last competition, the team meets infrequently, usually to clean up and organize for the following year. Mentors meet to select student leaders for the following year and awards for students that have performed exceptionally well including Nuttys for exceptional individual performance, Boltys for exceptional team performance, and Structural Support Awards (SSAs) to recognize performance that was good, but did not meet the level of a Nutty or Bolty.

Note that the above is focused on the technical/mechanical side of the team. There is also an Operations side, which is busy year round arranging appearances at events, reaching out to sponsors for funding, etc.

Team Structure The team has several "captains" with specific team-wide duties:

  • Team Captain - responsible for the overall team morale, planning, and cooperation
  • Integration Captain - responsible for ensuring the work done by various sub-teams (see below) integrates successfully into a final robot. Often manages the schedule during build season.
  • Game Captain - becomes expert on rules and develops the strategies the team will use during competition and to form alliances, coordinates the actions at a competition including driving, scouting, alliance formation, etc.
  • Operations captain - coordinates all non-technical aspects of the team. oversees the business, outreach, and marketing leads.
  • Hardware captain - coordinates robot mechanism teams, assessing risk and communicating needs to other captains

The team is then split into sub-teams, each with one or two leads under the direction of a captain and each focusing on specific areas including:

Under Operations

  • Business - fundraising and budgeting in coordination with Tech Boosters
  • Marketing - giveaway, uniform, and banner design, video production, social media, website, newsletter
  • Outreach - coordinates team presence at community events, tracks student FLL mentoring, recruits students with varied interests from other clubs

Under Mechanical

  • Mechanism - design and build the mechanical aspects of the robot: its frame, drive-train, and manipulating mechanisms. Each mechanism on the robot (for example drive train, shooter) has its own team.
  • Field and Pit - construct replicas of the competition environment for training/practice during the build season and manage the "pit" where the robot is maintained and repaired during competitions (like the pit crew for a race car).

Under Integration

  • Electrical - design and build the electrical/electronic aspects of the robot: its computers, batteries, power distribution, motor controllers, etc.
  • Control Systems - design and write the software that controls the robot and the sensing systems (sonar/lidar/switches/accelerometers/etc.) that let the robot sense its environment

Under Game

  • Drive - the students who control (drive) the robot during competition and interact with other teams to form competition alliances
  • Strategy - analyzes rules to find best scoring opportunities. validates designs against strategy.

Team Philosophy Team 2537 is a "student-led" team meaning that the students are expected to design and build the robot and, for the most part, run the team. Mentors' roles are to teach skills and provide guidance (including to help prevent disastrous failures). The team is analogous to a sports "rec" team meaning that all students are welcome. Team Captains and Sub-Team leads are selected by mentors: students apply for the role, are interviewed by a small group of mentors, and then a student is selected (in some cases two students are selected as co-leads/co-captains). Cooperation with other teams is encouraged. The overriding FIRST philosophy is "Gracious Professionalism".

Sources of Information

Team Handbook

Guidelines for Mentoring

UVA Study on Dufferent Approaches to FRC Mentoring

From FIRST NEMO: Mentor Information

From FIRST NEMO: Imparting the FIRST Philosophy to Parents

Last modified 5 years ago Last modified on May 23, 2016, 10:28:54 PM