Self-Taught CAD Student Brings PTC Grants and Prizes to Robotics Team

When Toren Arginteanu joined his high school FIRST robotics team in 2011, it was clear that he wanted to try 3D modeling. What nobody guessed back then was that, within four years, he would help build an award-winning design team, bring in grants and awards, and prepare his classmates for technologies that barely existed at the time.

First with PTC Creo

Team 207, Critical Mass in Englewood, NJ, has been participating in robotics competitions since 2007 under the guidance of the head of the school’s science department. But when Arginteanu arrived, little was being done with the seat of CAD software the team had downloaded from PTC. Arginteanu was ready to change that. “I thought it would provide a great opportunity for me to learn to use CAD,” he says.

So, he did what many early adopters in technology do: He taught himself, and when he needed answers, he went online. In Arginteanu’s case, he reached out to the PTC community, reading our forums and blogs.

Soon, he was modeling parts and assemblies and helping Critical Mass design devices like a machine that can climb down stadium stairs and clean between the seats and another that can form and throw snowballs.

A team leader emerges

As you might expect, the team soon looked on Arginteanu as their expert on 3D design. “Over time, I became the person in charge of CAD modeling, and went on to teach the younger members of the team,” he says.

From those students, a CAD group emerged, and with it a deeper team appreciation for digital prototyping. In fact, the Critical Mass website today says the designers “ensure there’s always proper modeling and testing before the team’s builders put ideas into practice.” That’s a dramatic change from a team that didn’t have a single CAD user just four years ago.

Turning CAD into opportunity

Building further on the team’s growing CAD skills, Critical Mass began entering PTC-sponsored competitions in addition to their FIRST physical robot matches. They were successful right away, boasting a collection of prizes, including two PTC Awards for Excellence in Design.

(Check out a sample of the team’s designs and animations)

Then something happened that made the work Arginteanu began four years ago more relevant than ever: FIRST and 3D Systems awarded Critical Mass a Cube Ekocycle; that is, a 3D printer that turns post consumer waste (think plastic soda bottles) into new products.

The team, already skilled in 3D design, knows just how to use it. Students conceptualize, model, and test parts in PTC Creo, and then export them as STL files, which the printer uses to manufacture physical artifacts.

“No one person builds a robot alone”

Arginteanu graduates from high school in just a few months. And to this writer, it seems as though he’s leaving behind a much more sophisticated team than the one he found as a freshman.

“I would say that’s a fair assessment,” team captain, Spencer, says. “Toren is a go getter.”

But, of course, that’s not how Arginteanu describes himself. He says he’s taking more with him than he’s leaving behind.

“Beyond designing, programming, and manufacturing, the most important part of building a robot is working with others; no one person can build a robot alone. I know that my best designs are the product of team-wide discussion and diagramming on the chalkboard, followed by collaboration among multiple CAD users on the team. Robotics has taught me the importance of teamwork, a lesson that will impact the rest of my life.”

First Tech Challenge

FIRST Tech Challenge Team 207, Critical Mass. Toren Arginteanu stands fourth from the left, under the Critical Mass sign

Ed -FIRST Tech Challenge is a robotics competition for high school students, intended to encourage youth to pursue careers in STEM fields, like math and engineering. High schools all over the world participate in the program.