Every year, in schools all over the world, students gather in teams for the FIRST Technical Challenge (FTC), a robotics competition aimed at grades 7-12. Kids design, build, and program their own robots, winning awards for their performance on the playing field, as well as community outreach, design, and other real-world accomplishments. It’s proven to be a great way to engage youth in STEM, and many institutions enthusiastically embrace the program.
But unfortunately, not all schools have the resources or the staff to support a robotics team. That was the case in a community in central New York. Students from New Hartford High School, Whitesboro High School, JFK Middle School in Utica, and a local home-schooler all found themselves with no robotics program, no place to build, and no faculty-led coach.
The determined group did something a bit audacious. They launched a “basement-based” team. Calling themselves the RoboSpartans, they began meeting at a team member’s home. Parent/coach Lisa Payne explains that teams don’t have to operate under the umbrella of a school or club. “Independent FTC teams can run out of any space they can find,” says Payne. “We’ve run our team out of our house for 5 years now in what we call Camp RoboSpartan. It’s just enough space for a small team like ours.”
They also don’t have to be a traditional team to use academic versions of PTC design, analysis, and simulation tools. Students can download PTC Creo free and work with state-of-the-art 3D CAD software–even from a basement in central New York. Student robot builder Aiden Uvanni, 16, adds that with PTC Creo he now has access to a broader library of parts, too.
The RoboSpartan’s determination is paying off. In just a few years, the team has earned a prestigious Inspire Award Finalist trophy and an invitation to the National Maker Faire in Washington DC.
This year, the team also won a PTC Design Award for their modular approach to robotics. “The entire drive train on our current robot was modular,” says Aiden Uvanni, 16. The lift on the device used a spindle and fishing line. When the wire wore out, the team would simply snap a new spindle in place. “The modular design definitely made us more competitive.”
Take a look at their current robot, Leonidis, in action.
Connecting, Communicating, and Collaborating with the World
Of course, real-life engineers must do much more than design. That’s why the FIRST program also promotes “well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.”
You can see these values already forming in the New York team. A few months ago, they launched an ambitious project from their underground laboratory–and this time it wasn’t an autonomous ball thrower. Rather, the RoboSpartans began connecting groups throughout the world. The concept arose when Uvanni met student robot builders from Texas and Jamaica at a competition.
Central New York’s RoboSpartans
“We stayed in touch through various online tools, and I decided to spread the collaboration platform to FIRST teams everywhere,” Uvanni says. FTC TEC Network is the result, a Google+ community where teams can “share, learn, and make friends with like-minded students.”
The student robotics world quickly embraced the peer-to-peer connection Uvanni’s platform offered. Already 115 teams in 8 countries and 30 US states have joined in.
Uvanni says his work aims to help teams everywhere Connect, Communicate, and Collaborate. Plus, he adds, “It makes us work harder to reach the international finals each year so we can see all our new friends there!”
[Ed – PTC is a FIRST Strategic Partner. Visit our Academic Program website to find out more.]
RoboSpartan’s basement workspace