Ramping up FTC Robotics

On Saturday, September 6th, the NYU School of Engineering was the site of the kickoff event for FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Tech Challenge (FTC). Teams from high schools in the Five Boroughs and Long Island gathered for the 2014-2015 FTC robotics competition challenge to be revealed. For the past fifteen years, NYU SoE and NYC FIRST have been strategic partners in running robotics competitions for NYC students. The Center for K12 STEM Education and an army of NYU SoE student volunteers plan, coach teams, and organize the tournament season.

About to reveal the Cascade Effect course

About to reveal the Cascade Effect course


Gathering materials to engineer winning robots

FIRST employs robotics tournaments to encourage young people to develop a love and excitement for science and technology. Teams of students, mentors, and volunteers build robots based on engineering principles to compete locally, regionally, and finally at a World Championship. On Saturday, teams were offered morning and afternoon workshops on tournament rules, programming, robot design, construction, and team building.

Mid-day, the challenge was revealed; teams were allowed into the auditorium to get their first look at the field. Along with their coaches, they watched a video describing details of the 2014-2015 challenge and course, dubbed “Cascade Effect”; robots must transport plastic balls into different “goals” to earn points. Teams can consult the video while building their robot and many recreate the course at their school to test alterations to their robot’s construction and programming.

Testing friction

Following the reveal, there was applause and lots of chatter, while team members scrambled to gather samples of the two differently sized balls to begin testing their properties: weight, speed at rolling on different surfaces, how they filled spaces in the tubes serving as goals. Students from Gregorio Luperon HS For Science and Mathematics, pioneer members of their high school’s first team entering FTC, were testing the friction of a column of balls as it slid down a ramp within the challenge course. Team members from Francis Lewis HS, Queens, gathered at the edge of the room to discuss another concern: would attempting to base this year’s robot on the model they already had built last year be the most efficient strategy?

Last year, the robot transported blocks within the course. Could the basic design of that robot be easily adapted for maneuvering plastic balls, or should they start from scratch? Repurposing the previous year’s robot is a common method teams employ to quickly develop their initial entry for qualifiers where they observe advantages of other teams’ entries and then modify their robots, accordingly.

This practice of incorporating elements from other teams’ robots often results in many entries converging on a similar “optimal” design that, in fact, was a gigantic group effort. While FTC is a serious competition, camaraderie, respect, and cooperation among teams is expected and rewarded. Rookie teams are

often offered assistance from more experienced teams, competitions involve two-team alliances, and awards are given not only to teams that win the actual challenge, but also to teams that contribute to the FIRST community.

This week, on the heels of the kickoff, the Center has been flooded with NYU SoE undergraduates signing up to volunteer to mentor teams. Equipment is coming out of storage, so stay tuned for further events, including scrimmages, workshops, and meets!