Yeah. It’s been that long. It’s that time of year when I get busy with another project and don’t have much time for blogging. It’s FIRST Robotics time.

I’ve been an advisor to a local High School team for six years, since my son was on the team. He graduated and is off in college, but I’m still on the team.

Every year, the students are given a new game to play and have six weeks to build a new robot to play it. We’re in the middle of that six weeks now and are well into the design and building of a robot that plays a game to be known as Breakaway. I’d try to explain the game, but here’s a video that does it better:

So, we’re building bumps and tunnels. Towers and kickers and trying to figure out how to build the perfect robot to master this game. Last year, we did pretty well, going all the way to the final field in the National – International, really – Championships in Atlanta. We won our local regional and did very well in another in Philadelphia. The challenge is to live up to our hard-earned reputation as a team and do it again.

This year, we’re only going to one regional, the Fingerlakes Regional at RIT. Due to the tough economic times, we had to choose between going to a second regional and not being able to afford to go to the Championships if we did well, or just going ahead and registering for the Championships. Without a regional win, it’s a gamble. Spots at the Championships are limited and we won’t know until later, whether we are accepted. Of course, a regional win would guarantee a spot. But we could be sitting at home and watching too.

So, I’m spending every afternoon and every Saturday at the school. I work on both Electrical and Programming and have several students working along. I also advise the students who make the team web page, although I’ve let them have free reign this year. Whatever they come up with, it’s all student-made. And along the way, there’s the brainstorming on the design. Everyone has input into the robot. We got off to a fast start this year, due to some well-planned and structured idea-forming sessions. But there is always refinements along the way. What looked good on paper, doesn’t always work in reality. Things get built and tweaked and sometimes rejected in favor of a new idea along the way. The ideas that work are further subjected to the constraints of weight and size. Pieces and parts get combined to do double-duty. Weight gets shaved off on a million ways. Sometimes even by drilling holes until things look like swiss cheese!

Hopefully, we get a week or so to program the robot and let the drivers practice the game. But by mid-February, it has to ship. The rules make it so each team has equal time to work on their robot and when the build period is over, the robot goes in a crate and off to our Regional competition. We won’t see it again until we open it in the pits at the competition in March.