Friday, January 22, 2021

FRC Resources of the Month - Jan 2021 - OnShape

There are numerous resources for FRC teams published all the time. So much so it's hard to keep track of them all. We keep a nice collection of them on our website and maintain it as much as possible, but it's still a lot to process, and it's not easy to see when new items get added or old items removed. 

We wanted to start a new series to highlight resources that we find useful. For the next few months, we will highlight a few broad categories of resources, and then hopefully, we can use this platform to highlight new resources as they come out in the future. 

Our Resources of the Month for January 2021 will be those created to help the FRC community better use the OnShape CAD software.

We need to thank PTC and the developers of OnShape for sponsoring FIRST and allowing every FRC student and mentor access to OnShape for free. OnShape is a 3D modeling CAD (Computer-Aided Design) program that runs entirely in the browser. It's been perfect for many teams who are meeting remotely as it can run on nearly any computer or tablet.

Our FRC community has created a host of resources that allow teams to quickly and easily get started using OnShape to help their team.

OnShape4FRC was created by Max Westwater, Dave Powers, Jack Tervay, and FRC#6328.

This website makes getting started with OnShape super simple for teams and is one of the sites we link to our beginning students. With an excellent getting started page and links and how to post about many of the resources we will highlight below, this page is a one-stop-shop for anyone looking to get started using OnShape on their FRC team.


MKCad was created by Marcus Bernstein, formally of FRC#1836: The Milkenknights, where MKCad gets its name. MKCad is now maintained by a team led by Ricky Marcus, Parth Oza, Julia Schatz, and Ty Tremblay.

MKCad is the most complete library of FRC CAD models that we know of it. Because OnShape hosts all of the models on their servers, the MKCad team of maintainers can constantly keep everything up to date with new part releases and added features. You never have to download all of the models to your own computer. They have made the library better every year by adding configurable parts and adding nearly every part from most FRC suppliers. It saves a ton of time over going to a vendor site, downloading, and converting every model you need for your robot. Instead, you can just find the part you need from their extensive list and insert it directly into your OnShape assembly. Even before Spectrum switched to using OnShape, we would often use MKCad to find the correct model for a part, export it from OnShape, and insert it into our Solidworks projects.

Julia's Featurescripts

Featurescripts are one of the most powerful parts of OnShape they allow you to automate CAD tasks down to a few clicks. Julia Schatz has been the most active member of the FRC community in creating and sharing these awesome tools.

You can find her scripts here and add them to your OnShape toolbar. Besides being amazing at programming these tools, her blazingly fast response time to feature requests is even more unbelievable. This nearly 200 post CD thread catalogs the scripts' evolution over the past year and a half.

We'd like to thank all of the people who helped create these resources for the FRC community to use and learn from.

Spectrum has started using OnShape this season, and we have been documenting what we learn as well. Our resources aren't nearly as useful as those above, but you are still looking for more, check out our in-progress OnShape Resources document and look at our YouTube channel for tutorials. 

- Spectrum

“If you can’t draw as well as someone, or use the software as well, or if you do not have as much money to buy supplies, or if you do not have access to the tools they have, beat them by being more thoughtful. Thoughtfulness is free and burns on time and empathy.” - Frank Chimero

Thursday, January 14, 2021

2021 Survey Results & Plans

 We surveyed the team to see which activities and events they prioritized. 

From that data, we started laying out a plan for how we will progress with the season. 

As you can see there is a lot of work to do and fewer hours than ever to do it. 

- Spectrum

"If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get to other person's point of view and see things from that person's angle as well as from your own."  -  Henry Ford

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Spectrum's 2021 Season Activities

Today we presented a variety of options to the entire team and are getting feedback from each member about which activities they are most interested in doing this season. The options include the challenges that are given to us as part of the 2021 FRC seasons and activities that we can to internal to our team. Here the slides that were presented today.

- Spectrum

“Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.” - BrenĂ© Brown

Monday, November 30, 2020

Virtual Pit Dec 5th or Zoom with Spectrum

Virtual Pit

We will be holding our last Virtual Pit session of the year on Saturday, December 5th from 11am to 1pm.

Our Virtual Pit is a time to come learn about our team, ask us any questions you have, or just hang out and chat about robots, FIRST, or anything else. 

Our virtual pit is now on Discord, so you can chat in text or voice channels.

Head to for more information

Zoom with Spectrum

If you can't make the Virtual Pit time, we are happy to set up a video conference session for another time for our teams to meet. We have met virtually with several FRC teams on zoom, so far we have discussed topics like robot mechanisms, team organization, and outreach. If there is anything your team wants to discuss, we would love to meet with your team! Send us an email at and we can schedule a time with your team.

Please let us know if you are interested,

Friday, November 6, 2020

P.J. Lewalski - This is How I Work

We are revisiting with P.J. who we interviewed in 2014. You can find P.J.'s original interview here. Since 2014, P.J. has received his Master's in Clinical Counseling and now mentors FRC Team 3538 the RoboJackets. Read more about P.J. and his goal to build a more positive mental health culture within FRC teams!

[responses from 7/3/2020]

Name: PJ Lewalski

CD Username: P.J.

Current Job: Counseling Intern at the Stonecrest Center

Alma Mater/Degree: Bachelor’s Degrees in English and

History from Wayne State University, Master’s in Clinical

Counseling from Wayne State University

Current Team(s): 3538 (2020-Present)

Former Team(s): 910 (07-10 Student, 11-17 Mentor)

Location: Michigan

What inspired you to do what you do professionally? Tell us a story. 

I have always wanted to help people, and that has led me down a few different paths. I initially spent my undergrad thinking I wanted to be a high school teacher, even going so far as to get about 90 percent of a Master’s Degree in Education. Then I started student teaching as my last semester to get my degree, and I realized that it was not what I wanted to do with my life. So I left the program and spent a lot of time reflecting, and realized that in order to truly have the impact that I want to have on others the job that was calling to me was becoming a therapist focused on youth and adolescent counseling. So I entered a new Master’s program and over the years it only reaffirmed my choice. So what I always tell people is that I was on the right road when it came to choosing a job, I just took the wrong exit. I guess the moral is don’t be afraid to leave your path if it isn’t right for you just because you spent a lot of time on it, when it comes to your life you want to do something that truly makes you happy. 

What is your day job (what projects/tasks do you do?), and how’d you get there?

I am currently a counseling intern at the Stonecrest Center, which is a mental health hospital in Detroit, Michigan. I am responsible for helping run group therapy sessions, but my main task is working in individual counseling sessions with some of the teenagers admitted to the hospital. The hospital has several floors and while I largely work with the adolescents and kids, I also spend time working with people with developmental disabilities, specifically individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders. 

How did you get involved in FIRST and what led you to become a mentor/volunteer?

I joined Team 910, The Foley Freeze, my freshman year of high school because it seemed fun and I always liked helping my dad and grandparents fix and build things. I immediately fell in love, and now I can’t imagine my life without FIRST. My freshman year of college I was busy with school so I wasn’t spending a ton of time mentoring 910, and First in Michigan requires teams to provide two volunteers per event they attend so I thought I could help the team by volunteering. On a whim I signed up to referee, never expecting them to choose a 17 year old college freshman for the job, and I was surprised when they did. Since then I have refereed at 98 events in 9 years, including multiple world championships. So between mentoring and volunteering I’m generally at an event every weekend in competition season in some capacity. 

What’s your/your team’s schedule like during robotics season?

Generally we meet Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 6-9 (ish, usually closer to 10 when all is said and done) and then on Saturday we’re in the shop from 8-8 but run that in two shifts so no kids are usually there more than 6 hours or so. 

What is your favorite story to tell about robotics? 

In 2018 at the Troy District event I was volunteering as a referee and when I showed up Friday morning to my great surprise Dr. Woodie Flowers was in the volunteer room. As he always was he was talking to everyone, signing things for people, and was just smiling and brightening the whole room with his presence. By chance we started talking and we got on the topic of mental health, and I discovered that mental health and changing the stigma surrounding those struggling with their mental health was a huge passion of Woodie’s. We talked and recommended several books to each other, and I mentioned that I had put in a proposal to lead a conference at the Championship event about promoting a positive mental health culture on an FRC team that was denied. He gave me a puzzled look and encouraged me to make sure I submitted again next year. Thinking nothing of it at the time I thanked him for the book recommendations and let him go on talking to other people (seeing as how we had accidentally spent about 15 minutes in intense conversation between just us). For the 2019 championship I submitted my proposal again and this time was accepted, so in April 2019 I presented to close to 200 people on why mental health in FRC is so important. I can’t help but think that Woodie had something to do with that, and I wish that I would have had the chance to thank him for it. 

What is your favorite robot that you didn’t help build and why?

This is hard. As the years go by there are more and more robots I could add to this list. 469 in 2010 will always be the robot that I wish I would have built. 3707 in 2018 and 2019 will always hold a special place in my heart, as their Dirty Swerve was just so fun to watch and they’re examples of how good driving can make up for choices. 

Tell us about an intriguing mechanism or project from your team(s)?

My favorite “project” from 3538 is probably the entirety of our training structure. Our lead mentor Allison has created an amazing training program that leads to kids constantly improving their skills and never leaving us short handed, no matter who graduates there is always a next person to step into their shoes. 

What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life recently? (Work, Robotics or Home)

I bought a small JBL Bluetooth speaker and it has just been great to have a portable speaker to use in my apartment or at my friends’ places that requires zero setup, just set it down and it plays music. 

What do you listen to while you work?

I listen to a huge variety of music, switching from classic rock to contemporary rap and hip hop to video game soundtracks and Disney music. It really depends on my mood, but I’ll listen to anything once. 

What’s the most valuable advice that you share with your students? (or what advice has helped you the most?)

Don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent a long time making it. Whether it is time to give up on that design concept you spent a week on or that relationship you’re in or that career path you’re on, never hold on to something for no reason other than time invested. 

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success?

When I decided to leave the teaching program I was in, I had a really rough time for a bit. I felt that I had failed in my career path. I even started seeing a counselor because I was having such a hard time processing and moving forward. This is what led me to realize that the counseling profession was my calling. If I wouldn’t have “failed” at my first attempt at a Master’s degree, I never would have found my dream profession. 

What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love? 

I still love LEGOs, when my mom asks what I want for Christmas every year I still ask for LEGO sets as a grown man. I have way too many sets and they’re taking over my apartment. 

Is there anything else you want people to know about you?

-I love FRC scouting and strategy, I spend far too much time analyzing and preparing for events and there is nothing I love more than alliance selection time. 

-Mental health among teenagers is my passion, and I am always willing to talk about ways to build more of a positive mental health culture on FRC teams and in society as a whole. So if you ever see me at events I am usually more than happy to talk about it. 

Who else should we interview for this series?

Clinton Bolinger (FRC 2337), Saikiran Ramanan (FRC 3476)

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Virtual Pit

What is a Virtual Pit?

A virtual pit is an online meeting session for members of the robotics community to come talk to a robotics team about their team and their robots. Virtual pits attempt to emulate the interactions that would normally happen during a competition at the team’s pit. Virtual pits give more people the opportunity to learn from teams around the world.

Spectrum’s Virtual Pit Meeting Information

Date: First Saturday of every month

Time: 11:00 am to 1:00 pm (Houston - US Central Time Zone)

Other Virtual Pits

ChiefDelphi Thread

NASA Alliance Project Virtual Pits Page

Thank you to the Robonauts FRC#118 for developing and modeling this idea.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Spectrum Robot Design Review Videos

While we moved our meeting to virtual sessions, we have been doing design reviews or design overviews of all of our past robots. Today we finished the series by doing a design review of our 2020 robot. Below we will link to the full youtube playlist and to each of the videos for our 2012-2020 robot. (While 3847 existed in 2011 we weren't Spectrum until 2012 and we don't have any CAD for the 2011 season).

Playlist -

Ultraviolet 2012

Gamma Ray 2013

Infrared 2014

X-Ray 2015

Ultraviolet 2016

Gamma Ray 2017

Infrared 2018

X-Ray 2019

Ultraviolet 2020

We have also added a few other videos to our youtube channel and will continue to do so while meeting virtually. If you want to be notified of new content to subscribe to our youtube channel or follow us on Twitter.

- Spectrum