Sebastian Pietschner - Developer and Student

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My Experience with Highschool Robotics

Sebastian Pietschner / Feb 18th 2020
5 min read

I started my high school robotics journey after hearing about a program occurring at a new "maker space" that had popped up in the area near where I lived. Originally I remember thinking that it would be some lame lego-based competition with only 2 or 3 organisations competing against each other but I was proven wrong on the first day.I walked into the meeting as nervous as I could have possibly been at the time at the fact that I was meeting a new crowd of people that may or may not have similar interests to myself. To start off with there was only a total of about 3 students (we did start with using lego) but as my time in the team progressed more people joined, excited to join a 'real' robotics team based out of a place that had 5 3D printers that we could use whenever we wanted.

I soon realised it wasn't as simple as I had thought it to be. As more people joined our roles became more defined as to what our aims were when we joined a robotics team. My personal goal was to learn to program and I know others had similar goals. Out of the original 3 we had a prospective programmer, media editor and someone who just wanted to 'build stuff.' These roles became more specific as time went on when we gained more people, for example, someone who wanted to learn CAD (Computer-Aided Design).

Our Introduction to the FIRST Program

Once our team was assembled our lead 'mentor' gave us an introduction to FIRST. A robotics program that promoted STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) globally.

Our First Attempt

Our first attempt at starting out with the most complicated and involved program they offered we tried our best and built a halfway-decent robot that could drive, shoot and push things around. The robot was mainly just a "box on wheels" that had limited functionality in an actual competition environment. The box part of the robot was made of laser-cut MDF and a few packets of wood screws and a basic motor. The "drive base" of the robot was made from out-of-the-box components that came with the starter kit when you registered your team. In the end, we completed the robot just before the off-season competition we wanted to compete in.

The Second Attempt

The second attempt went much better for us as we had had time to sort our various roles within the team structure. The CAD people (now numbering 2) designed the robot from start to finish, the programmers (me and one other) got the robot programmed and driving and finally the rest of the team built the actual robot and managed our social media accounts.

The Competition

The first competition we went to was a regional one, made up of teams from neighbouring countries who had had their robots shipped into the country in giant wooden crates. Another part of the event was to design and build your 'pit' where you stored and repaired your robot between matches as well as showcasing what we had done as part of 'outreach' (another major part of the FIRST program).

The competition itself had a massive amount of energy with teams of 10-30, there were about 50 of these teams at the event with even more down in the pits and the drive team attending their matches.

My role in the team was to provide technical help if there was a problem with the robot in the middle of the match. The other members of our 'drive team' were the drive coach who could talk but not touch the controls and the driver and operators of the robot. Overall the first competition was successful for the team as we achieved third place overall when it came to competitive matches due to our supporting role in matches, helping the more established teams defend from the opposing team's robot.

What happened to the team after that?

After that competition, there were issues as to who the team 'belonged' to, the people who owned the facility we worked out of or the people who ran and organised the resources the team received as well as teaching team members all sorts of different skills. I won't delve into this matter any further as part of this blog post.

As a result of this friction between the two groups, the team dissolved with some people staying and some people leaving (I was one of those that left).

What's Next?

After the team dissolved I didn't join another team for a while due to other things going on in my personal life. But, in the end, I was still eager to be part of this program.

So, talking to the mentors of my old team they suggested that I join Thunder Down Under, one of the primary and the first robotics teams in Australia that was part of this program.

At the moment I'm really happy to once again be part of this wonderful program and even happier to be able to continue with my love of robotics and programming.

If you got this far, thanks for reading!