FTC 2015-2016 Kickoff

Greetings, and welcome to the 2015-2016 school year! Following some uncertainty about our club’s future, I’m happy to report that Oakville Robotics is alive and well, at least for the next year.

We have two returning members this year, Club President Jacob Kauffmann (me) and Vice President Drake Follmer. We’ve got around 15 members total. A full list will be posted once we’re separated into teams.

Speaking of teams, we’ve received funding from Ranken Technical College to cover two team registrations for the 15-16 FIRST Tech Challenge. Four of our members attended the Missouri FTC Kickoff event at UMSL, and we’re excited to get started on our Res-Q robots. We’re in the process of ordering our part kits. We’ve received a grant that will cover the new Android-based control system, and we’ve got a few outside sponsors who will hopefully cover our TETRIX kits.

We’ll try to keep the public updated on our progress once we start designing our bots. For now, feel free to contact us via the email addresses on our “About” page.

FRC 2015 Mega-Post

Hello! As you might have noticed, we were WAY too busy during the FRC season to post regular updates, but we were able to capture a few moments along the way.

The FRC game this year, called “Recycle Rush”, involved picking up plastic bins and stacking them on top of scoring platforms. Our team decided early on to use a forklift-like design, but we knew that it would be too difficult to slide an arm underneath the boxes. We eventually decided to use side-gripping hooks that would pull the box up using string, which would wind around a motor. Here are some pictures of the bot about four weeks in.

P1000103 P1000107





P1000104 P1000102





P1000100 P1000111P1000114







The only major change that we made after taking those pictures was replacing the black motors (which were extremely fast, but were too weak for three or more boxes and didn’t hold their position when shut off) with silver motors (which were much slower, but held the boxes in the air even when they weren’t receiving power.) The switch also allowed us to attempt adding a third top motor, since the rules place a limit on black motors but the silver motors were unlimited. However, we ended up sticking with just two motors due to time constraints.

Before we figured all of that out, me and my programming team had to wire up the electronics of the bot and attach everything to the baseboard. Again, we were moving too fast to take a lot of pictures, but here are a few shots of the almost-finished product:

P1000101 P1000105





P1000106 P1000109





Toward the end of the built period, we put some finishing touches on the cable management, tidying up the baseboard and creating a tight bundle of cables running up to the top of the bot (but still not attached to the back pole, as that would block the sliding mechanism.) Finally, we decided to go with a tank drive control system this year, as it seemed easier to use during the FTC and we knew we would need precision steering to guide boxes into our bot. We also used a third controller (a left-over hand controller from the FTC season) for a second driver to control the lift mechanism with. With triple the controllers from our last two FRC bots, we needed a bigger driver station. I took the liberty of designing the new station myself!


At first, I used adhesive velcro to attach the controllers and laptop to the board, but the rubber mesh worked surprisingly well at keeping things from falling off. It was lucky that we made the switch to the mesh, because when we got to the competition, the field technician deemed our laptop inadequate and made us switch to our more powerful (and larger) laptop, which we had planned on keeping in the pits to use for quick programming changes. As such, the end layout looked a bit different (less polished) than the one pictured above, but hey, that’s pretty typical for our team. The important thing is that it worked!

Here’s a video from early in the testing stage, before the switch to more powerful motors. You’ll see the box shoot up off of the table, then slow to a halt about halfway up the slide.

We also changed the black nylon(ish) cord to a thinner white string to accommodate the shorter axles on the more powerful motors.

Finally, here’s my Nerd on the Street video covering the weekend of the competition:

Overall, it was a great season for the FRC team, and a good year in general for our club. Unfortunately, our school district has decided that it might not fund our club again next year (which is sad, because they weren’t giving us any money in the first place. “Funding” means letting us in the building and keeping the lights on. We’ve always been entirely supported by fundraising and donations.) I’ll make sure to keep you all updated as to how that plays out in the fall. For now, that’s everything.


FTC Wrap-Up

We’ve been hard at work for the FRC, but before I catch you up, I wanted to post a little more about the FTC.

Here are a few pictures of Team A’s robot, which I haven’t talked as much about. (That’s because it was never finished.)

IMG_20141230_181537 IMG_20141230_181531

IMG_20141230_135715 IMG_20141230_135653

IMG_20141230_135637 IMG_20141229_161325

Team A had several design problems, ranging from LEGO motors that weren’t strong enough to power the street sweeper to a conveyor belt that wasn’t solid enough to pick up balls. At the competition, Team A removed the pickup and loading mechanism, and simply drove during the matches. Due to the lightweight wood and acrylic base, the bot was able to knock over the center goal ball stands easier than many of the more advanced bots!

Here’s one final clip of Team B’s bot during the design stages. We ended up using fishing line and drawer slides for the linear bearing lift, demonstrated below. We used the autonomous period of the game to lift the slides in order to start driving as soon as Tele-Op started.

Finally, here two videos from the competition itself. The first is from the Mehlville School District’s publicity department, and the second is from my website Nerd on the Street.

More FTC Progress

With our first competition this Saturday, I decided to upload some more pictures of the FTC robots. The Team A robot is still under heavy development, so this post will again be focused on Team B.

Near the beginning of the season, I installed LabView on our laptops and wired up the robot controllers.

Computer Controller

Team B built their robot’s base before they started focusing on the higher functions.

Base-1 Base-2

Over winter break, Brian took the bot home, and the team met at his house for several days. This is when the majority of the lift’s work was done.

IMG_20141219_123921 IMG_20141219_154113 IMG_20141219_171108 IMG_20141219_174207 IMG_20141219_175914 IMG_20141219_175919 IMG_20141220_144027 IMG_20141220_165437 IMG_20141220_165447 IMG_20141222_113148 IMG_20141222_114532 IMG_20141222_114553

Now that the bot is nearing completion, the team has been working on final documentation, pit training, and driving practice.


Stay tuned for a Team A update, and for the beginning of our FRC 2015 work!

FTC Build Progress

Over the past month, both FTC teams have been building their robotics. In this post, we’ll look at Team B, headed by Brian Pohl.

Brian with Team B’s notebook and robot.

First, the team built the base of their robot, including the initial “street sweeper” to pick up balls. The first iteration of the street sweeper connected the gears of each of the robot’s wheels, inadvertently preventing the robot from being able to turn. This was resolved by cutting the street sweeper axle in half. The change did make the street sweeper less effective, and the team is still looking into improving the structure. Below you can see a video of the modified design picking up balls. The video also shows the servos mounted to the back of the bot, which will latch onto the rolling goals on the field and pull them around with the bot.

 Next is a clip that shows the robot’s scoring mechanism in action. We used a plastic VEX conveyor belt connected to two axles, and rubber-supported duct tape cups carrying the balls from the base of the robot to the goal. In this video, a team member is holding the top of the belt up. Eventually, the bot will have linear bearing lifts powered by strings winding around TETRIX continuous servos. We were originally using LEGO parts for the lift, but due to several issues with sliding and staying connected, we have switched to generic drawer slides. Strings within the lift will pull the slides up to the extended position at the beginning of the match.

Both teams continue to work as the first competition approaches.

FTC Design Process

At the last few meetings, the teams have begun designing their FTC robots. These bots must be capable of picking up small balls (golf ball and baseball sized) and throwing them into tubes of varying height. Team A began by brainstorming ideas on the whiteboard:

The first brainstorming session.

The first brainstorming session.

Second brainstorming session.

Second brainstorming session.






Next, we began sketching the possible designs. We are considering implementing a folding conveyor belt into our bot, so we did some math to figure out how long the pieces of the arm would have to be.

A page from Team A's engineering notebook.

Another page from Team A’s engineering notebook.

Another page from Team A's engineering notebook.

A page from Team A’s engineering notebook.








Meanwhile, Team B is formulating their design:

Some early sketches of Team B's design ideas.

Some early sketches of Team B’s design ideas.

Team B's Brian Pohl documenting a possible design.

Team B’s Brian Pohl documenting a possible design.






Next up will be converting these rough sketches into technical drawings that we can use to define the details of our bots.

FRC Funding Campaign

While we are very excited to participate in the FIRST Tech Challenge, many of us would also like to go to the FIRST Robotics Competition as well. To that end, we have created an Indiegogo campaign, which you can find by clicking “Donate” or by following this link: http://igg.me/at/oakvillerobotics. This campaign is designed mainly for small businesses (and heavily involved individuals) to be able to cover part of our registration fee without paying the entire amount. You can contribute at multiple levels and we will recognize you in different ways. $100 will get your name on our website; $500 will get your company in our videos; and $1000 will get your company’s logo on the side of our robot! We have a campaign video below about why we want to go to the FRC.

If you wish to contact us outside of the campaign website, you can do so at roboticsohs@mehlvilleschooldistrict.net. We look forward to competing, and we hope that the community will help us achieve our goal!

FTC Teams Announced

At our meeting this past Monday, we took inventory of each club member’s focus, such as programming, building, or drawing. We then divided the club into two teams to take to FTC competitions. Oakville’s teams will develop separate robots and compete separately in competitions, but some key personnel, such as the lead builder (Brian Pohl) and the lead programmer (Jacob Kauffmann) will work with new members on both teams to teach everyone the basic skills they will need. Oakville’s 2014-2015 FTC Teams are as follows:


Team Division

The Oakville High School robotics team has decided to compete in the First Tech Challenge this year. However, I and several other members strongly want to participate in the First Robotics Competition. To this end, we are considering splitting a branch of the team into a separate group that would pursue higher-level builds while also accepting more responsibility for the organization. We are currently working hard to raise the funds necessary to participate in the FRC. If you want to contribute to our goal, you can visit our Indiegogo campaign by clicking on the “Donate” button at the top of the website.

Oakville Robotics Kick-off 2014

I’m pleased to share that our robotics program has skyrocketed in popularity this year! Will all of the participants eager to begin working, we’re now in the process of deciding which competitions to register for this year. We are leaning towards both the FIRST Robotics Competition and the VEX Robotics Competition, and are looking into ways to raise the money needed to sign up. This website will keep our fans up-to-date with information on our progress throughout the year.