Building Robots at School

September 15, 2008

Finding FTC — Where to pay? Where to play?

Filed under: FTC,Robotics Competitions — dtengineering @ 2:32 am

I’ve been asked a few times now about the costs of the FIRST Tech Challenge program, and when and where the tournaments will be held.  I can understand that there is a bit of confusion to someone new to robotics competitions, so here are some places to look:

What does it cost to play FTC for 2008?  Look here.  In short the answer is $275 USD for registration and $900 USD for the new kit of parts.  This kit of parts (KOP in acronym land) should be reusable from year-to-year.  There are also grants available to teams returning from last year, and a limited number of rookie team grants to help cover the cost of purchasing the KOP.  At $450 each, the grants are substantial, and definitely worth looking in to.  (Hint… read that link, above.)

FIRST works on a program of regional affiliates… you can kind of think of these as “non-profit franchises”.  Just like McDonalds restaurants are often locally-owned and operated franchises, but with central control of product and quality, this ensures that FIRST offers local support, but a uniformly high quality of competition around the world.  For teams in BC, the regional affiliate partner is the BC Original Minds Association (BCOMA).  Their web site is  Look under “registration” for how to get signed up for their FIRST Tech Challenge Event, scheduled for January 10 at BCIT in Burnaby.

Other FTC events can be found in Seattle (they have a great write up on getting involved in FTC) and through the FIRST web site.  This list will be updated throughout the fall, but at present the only Canadian competitions I am aware of outside of BC are in Ontario.  Check out FIRST Robotics Canada’s website for more information on what is happening “back east”.

FTC is a great program, backed by some great people.  It can sometimes seem a little intimidating to get signed up and registerested, and sometimes at first glance the fees can seem a bit high.  I can assure you that using TIMS (the “Team Information Management System”) gets easier, and that FIRST works hard… and succeeds… at delivering good value for your money.


September 12, 2008

Storing & Transporting Your VEX and FTC Robots

Filed under: FTC,teaching,VEX — dtengineering @ 4:18 am

When you have students working with robotics equipment, you want to make it easy for them to keep track of all the parts.  It is pretty much guaranteed that the part that goes missing in September is the part they will need… on an hour’s notice… in December.  This year we are using two different boxes for each team.

18" Cantilever Toolbox


The first box is the tool box.  This is to store the transmitter, batteries, charger, spare and replacement parts, as well as any tools or such that they need.  We’ve found an 18″ cantilever tool box like this one does a great job.  The “good” ones can cost $100, but we find “decent” ones on sale at KMS tools in their monthly flyer from time to time for $40.  They look sort of like the photo here.  If you can’t find a cantilever tool box at a good price, look for a different style that is at least 18″ long (why 18″?  because that is about the longest piece of VEX metal you’ll find) and that has lots of storage space for small parts.  Make sure it seals up tightly, too.

The second question is how to store your robot.  I’ll happily rip off an idea that my friend Todd used with his FTC teams last year.  He built boxes with 18″ cubic interior dimensions from 3/4″ plywood.  They were pretty heavy, but got his team’s robots all the way to Atlanta safe and sound (well, except for the friendly TSA luggage inspectors in Dallas who opened the box and crunched one of the robots when they couldn’t figure out how to close it properly).  I called Todd today to ask if he would have done anything differently, but he was really pleased with how the boxes turned out.  Because they were a perfect 18″ cube inside, they served as a “sizing box”.  In other words, if the robot fit in the box, it fit in the 18″x18″x18″ starting size limit for the competition.  Since the kids had to store their robot in there every day, there was no way they could accidentally show up at a competition with an oversize robot.  (If only FRC had it so good!)  He found the thick walls gave the box dimensional stability… the walls wouldn’t bow outwards when kids put their robots in, and made the box really easy to assemble with glue and a few staples/nails from the nail gun.  A couple coats of paint and some team graphics on the box were the finishing touch.

Oh, yeah… and the boxes made great little chairs/stepstools/robot work platforms and were pretty much indestructable.  I’m going to build mine in the next couple days and will post some photos when I’m done.

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