In 2019, the FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC) drew 3,790 international teams to participate in its real-world engineering competition for high school students. The value of the FRC competition can be measured in the 91% increase in students interested in a job or career in STEM after participating in FRC, as well as student enthusiasm to gain skills they can apply beyond academe. PTC Academic has proudly supported FRC teams with free PTC software and services for many years and continues to do so by providing access to PTC Creo, Mathcad, Windchill, and Vuforia.
Each year, FRC presents a new challenge to competing teams for which they build and program industrial-size robots. This season, FRC, INFINITE RECHARGE challenges students to build a robot that will “protect FIRSTCity from approaching asteroids caused by a distant space skirmish.” In years past, FRC has set up local kickoff events where teams could see what the physical playing field for that year’s competition would look like, but the resources and logistics required for a team to travel often proved prohibitive, putting some at a disadvantage.
To solve this problem, FRC decided to provide teams with a virtual representation of the competition field where their robots would eventually compete at the end of the season. PTC Academic Education Technology Specialist Brian Watchutka and Academic Rotational Analyst McKenzie Brunelle were tasked with making a virtual field for students using PTC’s augmented reality (AR) tool, Vuforia.
In addition to their connection to the FIRST Robotics Competition through PTC, Brian and McKenzie have also personally participated – Brian as a team coach and McKenzie as a student participant in high school and later as a volunteer and staff member at events. Together, Brian and McKenzie have created a virtual representation of this year’s FRC competition field using AR.
Here’s a look at the FRC AR Experience Brian and McKenzie built as well as a Q&A session to learn more about their process in designing it:
Q: Can you tell us what your goals were in creating this AR experience of the field for teams?
A: At PTC Academic, we design FIRST resources with the user experience at the center. We asked ourselves, “how do we make sure the user knows what to do in the experience?”
We had three goals for the FRC AR field experience:
• Demonstrate PTC’s and Vuforia’s leadership in AR
This AR experience will provide teams with the ability to put their robot in the build space and gives them a lot more perspective on what the field looks like and what they have to do. To make it a useful tool that teams will reference throughout the season, we include information from the INFINITE RECHARGE game manual, including measurements, that can assist in strategy development. The experience includes multiple views so that different game elements can be explored in isolation.
Q: How does using AR benefit the students?
A: Student teams will often create their robots using computer-aided design (CAD), and something that’s really great about Vuforia is how simple and easy it is to import CAD models. For example, they can see their robot on the computer screen in CAD, but then they’re also able to walk around it and see it on the competition field in real life thanks to AR. This gives them the ability to see how parts are fitting together during the build process, which is one of the huge benefits of AR.
Q: What technologies were used to create the AR experience?
A: We used Creo to make the 3D models, Vuforia Studio to make the AR experience, and teams use the Vuforia View app to use the AR experience. The experience includes multiple views so that different game elements can be explored in isolation.
Q: How long did the experience take you to create from beginning to end?
A: We made the experience in three phases: We first received the CAD files for the INFINITE RECHARGE field in mid-October. We created a basic experience that showed the field in 3D and included multiple views. When an early draft of the game manual was released (mid-November) we built in the game-specific information and were able to orient the experience around the gameplay. We had a complete working version at the end of November. In early December we polished it up and did the testing and revisions, so by January, it was ready to be released into the world.
Q: What was the most challenging part of designing and building the AR experience?
A: The actual field model is large (approximately 52 feet-by-27 feet) with the center structure over 9-feet tall. To include all the game information that we wanted to would require hundreds of 3D and 2D components. Getting all the pieces optimized in a usable and efficient way took several design iterations. Also, the downside of having an accessible mobile-based AR field meant that people would be viewing it on devices with a wide-range of screen sizes. We had to organize the elements in our experience to fit and look clean across all of those devices.
Q: What was your favorite part of bringing the experience to fruition?
A: The constraining factors throw up an endless series of challenges and we had to think through the best solution to each one while maintaining a cohesive AR experience, but the creative process required for a project like this was exciting!
Q: What are some tips you have for FRC students?
A: Outside the build season students should take advantage of the chance to explore and learn new technologies, try different design options, or challenge themselves in other ways. It’s also a great time to be recruiting and training new team members.
Another thing to note is that all teams should be using CAD because it’s a big part of the judging process of the robots and really makes the overall design, build, and test process easier. Being able to see the design in a CAD platform like Creo and apply things like textures, materials and measurements can reduce time and energy spent on that stage in the robot design process. The teams have a limited time to build the robots as is, so any help will benefit them in the end to meet their goals for the end product.
The FRC AR experience created by Brian and McKenzie exposes students to the power of digital transformation technologies (AR and CAD) and their capabilities. In many cases, this is the first time the students using the experience are seeing AR leveraged in a practical use case. While some students have been exposed to AR in more social settings, through games and app filters, in this instance AR is used for strategic purposes that benefit FRC teams, their workflow, building processes, and product performance.
The FRC AR Field Experience requires a mobile device with the Vuforia View app. The free app is available in the Apple App Store, Google Play, and Microsoft Store. You can run the experience by scanning the VuMark in the Vuforia View app, below, from your device: