FRC’s 2019 season is ready for launch


Aubrey Stellman, Guest Reporter

T minus five, four, three, two, one. Blast off.

On Jan 5, the game for the 2019 season of FIRST Robotics Competition, Destination: Deep Space, was revealed, plunging FRC teams everywhere into a mad dash to collect their ideas and begin building their robots.

“Buckle up FIRSTers,” Woodie Flowers, one of the founders of FIRST, said in his kickoff speech. “It’s going to be a wild ride.”

The kickoff event was streamed live worldwide, broadcasted from Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, New Hampshire. It included speeches from esteemed FIRST advisers, founders, and alumni, as well as an animation that explained how the game would be played, and finally, a segment titled ‘Deeper Space’ that included a Q&A and a tour of the field.

There are two high school robotics teams affiliated with Utica Community Schools: Team 217, The ThunderChickens, and Team 2851, Crevolution.

Now that ‘Build Season,’ the title given to the six weeks that teams are given to build their robot, is in its second week, students and mentors alike are beginning to have extended meetings in order to determine which design will be the way to go.

“We had a 10-hour meeting, then I spent four hours with design, getting everything situated,” senior Andrew Kleehammer of Crevolution said. “We were deciding what mechanism would be the best.”

One element of the game, the sandstorm period, especially surprised students. During this period, a curtain will drop over the area where drivers are able to see, forcing robots to either operate autonomously, meaning without the assistance of a driver, or for teams to drive their robots with only on-board visual systems to see from, a never-before-seen twist to the opening fifteen seconds of matches.

“It’ll be cool to see how teams work around [the sandstorm period] and amusing to watch teams drive blind,” senior Emily Lecea of the ThunderChickens said. “I can’t wait to see if FIRST does more stuff like this in future games.”

Previously, the first fifteen seconds of a match were completely dedicated to the autonomous coding portion. Some teams’ programmers have expressed their concern about having little to work on, but many others are willing to look on the bright side of the change.

“It’s disappointing that we don’t have as much of a presence initially in the match,” Matthew Attisha, the junior head programmer of the ThunderChickens, said. “But I find this year’s sandstorm period beneficial in that we are now able to work on projects that we had no time to do beforehand.”

After Build Season ends, on Feb 19, the robot will be placed aside, unable to be worked on any farther until its competitions. Teams highly anticipate competitions, where they will finally be able to show off what they created, as well as gain the experience of travelling to new places.

“I’m excited for Finger Lakes, because it’s a new competition that has lots of different teams we haven’t seen or competed against before,” Lecea said. “But worlds is always the best to go to since everyone there is always super enthusiastic, and the attitude is always competitive.”

FIRST Robotics not only offers the opportunity to work with robots, though. It also opens opportunities for real-world experience in technology career paths through the teams’ experiences throughout the season and the sponsors who come to some competitions. In addition, a total of over $80 million in scholarships are offered through the program each year.

“I’ve been able to work and establish ties with businesses and corporations across Michigan,” Kleehammer said. “I’ve been approached by colleges about my experiences and used these experiences to secure a college internship opportunity.”

To see the ThunderChickens or Crevolution in action, the teams’ information and schedules can be viewed here and here, respectively. Plenty of competitions can be found locally, and even the world championship is held in nearby Detroit, at Cobo Center and Ford Field.