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Want to Start a Robotics Competition Team but Don’t Know Where to Start?

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Starting a robotics competition team can seem overwhelming, but it’s not as scary as it seems. Here’s a high-level overview of what you need to do to get a team up and running:

  1. Choose a platform
    Now more than ever, robotics teams are faced with the important question of which platform they should purchase and use. LEGO and VEX are the two most widely used platforms. LEGO is primarily used for elementary through middle school (Ages 9 – 14), while VEX can be used for kids in elementary school through college (Ages 8 – 18+).Whether you choose LEGO or VEX, Robomatter has the resources you need to make your team successful, including hardware, software, free curriculum to help students learn to program, and training to help you get things up and running.
  2. Pick your equipment
    Once you’ve chosen a platform, the next step is to pick your equipment. Whether you’ve decided to go with VEX or with LEGO, Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy has a great resources page to provide you with all of the tools and information you need to get started.You can access the VEX page here and the LEGO page here.
  3. Choose your software  
    ROBOTC is a C-based programming language with a Windows-based environment for writing and debugging programs. It’s also the most used language for the VEX IQ Challenge, and for the VEX Robotics Competition. ROBOTC is the only solution that offers a comprehensive, real time debugger. It also comes with a Graphical interface, which is a great way to get new students started.In addition to ROBOTC, you may also want to check out Robot Virtual Worlds, a high-end simulation environment that enables students to learn programming without a physical robot. With Robot Virtual Worlds, students can develop and test code on a simulated robot before running code on a real robot. They can also work on the robot when they’re at home, which means they don’t need to be in the classroom to prepare for the competition. With Robot Virtual Worlds, VEX users can also take part in online competitions.LEGO users can use Robot Virtual Worlds by adding on the Virtual Brick. By looking and acting like a LEGO Brain, the Virtual Brick allows teams to program virtual robots using the same programming language as they use to program real LEGO robots.
  4. Identify your technical and logistical requirements
    Here are some things you’ll need to think about:

    • Computers: You’ll want to have one computer for each robot/team of students.
    • Practice Area: The space should be large enough to accommodate the team, computer, practice table, and storage area for the robots.
    • Parts storage: To keep parts organized and accessible, parts organizers are a must. There are many options – portable organizers, drawer cabinets, boxes, caddies, etc. These are readily available online and at local hardware and craft stores.
    • Network – The software will need to be loaded on each computer or available via the network on each computer. Programs should be included in the regular system backup or a leader should make a backup to a separate disk or memory stick.
  5. Prepare a budget and get funding
    Your budget will need to take into account:

    • Robot kits and pats
    • Software
    • Parts organizers
    • Computers
    • Miscellaneous tools, parts, and supplies
    • Competition entry fees
    • Travel expenses, including gas, food, and lodging
    • Team shirts or other items to promote your team at the event

    Some potential sources of funding include your school district, local businesses, and local non-profit organizations. You may also consider having a fund raiser, like a bake sale or car wash. Be sure to acknowledge your sponsors at every opportunity, such as printing their names on your team shirts, etc.

  6. Build your team and assign rolesIn terms of team size, we’ve found that first-time coaches typically do well with about eight students. For larger teams, or if you have the resources, recruit other mentors for your team to lead the subgroups.Once you’ve built your team, the next step is to define roles. We recommend having students change roles on a regular basis, allowing them to share responsibility for all aspects of building, programming, etc. These are the roles we recommend:
    • Engineer (Builder)
    • Software Specialist (Programmer)
    • Information Specialist (Gets the necessary information for the team to move forward)
    • Project Manager (Whip-cracker)
  7. Plan, build, test, and iterate Once you have your equipment, funding, and team in place, you’re ready to get started!To make your team most effective, it’s a good idea to stick to a schedule. Create a schedule that fits your team’s objectives and resources. When you’re ready to build your robot, be sure to familiarize yourself with the competition rules and requirements. If you have questions, reach out to the community for help. There are a lot of great forums out there, such as the ROBOTC forum.Remember, an important part of the process is testing and iteration. Make sure your team knows it’s going to take time to get it right. Luckily, both the VEX and LEGO platforms allow teams to quickly build, test, iterate, and repeat. Even still, students may get frustrated by this process. Remind them that building, programming, and testing a robot doesn’t always go as planned. But, even though a design may have failed, it’s still a valuable learning opportunity, with lessons that can be applied to the next time you try.

If you’re interested in starting a robotics competition team, be sure to tune into our Webinar on September 9th and 7:00 pm ET, Using ROBOTC and RVW to prepare for VEX Competitions. Visit www.robotc.net/hangouts to join.

 

 

Written by LeeAnn Baronett

September 4th, 2015 at 6:30 am