Wednesday, July 31, 2013

2013 Spectrum Challenges

I imagine a lot of teams set goals for themselves each year. This year I wanted to challenge my team to push beyond what we did in 2011/2012. Last November I wrote up these challenges (in a similar vein to what Barry Bonzack did in 2006).

Most of these challenges were extremely big reaches and though we didn't achieve many of the challenges, we did earn two regional finalists awards, two entrepreneurship awards, and an invitation to IRI. Overall not a bad year and we still have two more FRC off-season events to go before the season is over.

2013 Spectrum 3847 Challenges
- Build as close to real field elements as possible (economical)
We did end up with a full pyramid, but not building full goal boxes hurt us more than I originally thought. Discs bouncing out of the goals turned out to be a pretty big problem for our original design.

- Make one incremental working prototype each day for the first two weeks on all game specific systems (i.e. collector or end game)
We did a very good job of this. Our prototype shooter video inspired a whole lot of other teams' shooters and we are still working to improve everything to this day.

- Fully CADed drive train and main structure by Jan 20th/ Fully CADed robot by Jan 27th
We me the drive train and main structure deadline for the most part, but we were a bit behind on the shooter CAD.

- Fully operational robot by Feb 8th
Since this was our first time doing sheet metal, we definitely did not meet this deadline. The robot also turned out far more complex than we originally thought.

- Improve robot performance by 25% before each event
We did a good job here. We pulled the shooter off the lift and completely redesigned it's functionally after our first event. We then increased the speed of our robot for Razorback. We drastically improved our shooter for IRI and made our blocker faster and more effective. We even reengineered our hanging mechanism during the few days between IRI and TRR. 

- #1 seed or 1st pick at a regional
We didn't do either of these, but Texas Torque did tell us that we were on their short list at Razorback for the #1 selection. This was closer than we ever have been before. We also captained our alliance to the finals, so overall pretty close.

- Get on a Championship Eliminations Alliance
We didn't qualify for Championship this year, but we did get on an alliance at IRI which is arguably a much harder accomplishment.

- .750+ winning percentage 
Not quite there, but we're getting better.

- Markedly improve 10+ other robots/teams throughout the season
It's hard to measure this, but I'm sure we succeeded. From just the kit bot build days and bumper build days alone I think we impacted a large number of teams, plus all the assistance and mentoring we did at events.

- Get 100+ people to attend the 2013 Lone Star Regional
Not quite 100, but we had more people attend the event in support of Spectrum than ever before.

- Get on TV talking about robotics

- Have our robot pictured in a non-school publication

- Have one elected government official drive our robot or attend a competition because of us

Not yet, if anyone knows anyone that can help us out with this, let us know.

None of the above, but we did earn two Entrepreneurship Awards and two Regional Finalists Awards.

We'll revise the list for next year, but overall I think it's pretty good starting point for FRC event/robot goals. We have a lot of other goals when it comes to our entire engineering program and STEM outreach.

- Allen Gregory

"Attempt the impossible in order to improve your work."  - Bette Davis

Monday, July 29, 2013

Andrew Lynch - This Is How I Work

Andrew Lynch is the lead mentor of team 2587 the Discobots and a close friend of Spectrum. Andrew is a true journeyman of Texas robotics teams. He has been on four different teams in his time in FRC, helping to start two of them. He also is one of the key players in the Texas VEX Robotics community from it's inception in 2008. Just this past weekend he was the MC at Texas Robot Roundup. We asked him about his favorite team memory, his robotics experience, his education, and much more.

[Responses from July 2, 2013]

Name: Andrew Lynch
CD Username: lynca
Current Gig/Job: Research & Development at Sparx Engineering
Alma Mater/Degree: BS Electrical Eng. from UT-Austin, MS Comp Sci & MS Mech Eng from Rice University
Current Team(s): 2587
Former Team(s): 624, 118, 2158
Houston, Texas
Hobbies: Playing Music, Flying Airplanes

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

I started my FIRST career in high school in 2001 for Team 624 CRyptonite in Katy, Texas. I was more interested in playing music and working on cars more than robots through most of high school. My senior year,  the 2003 Stack Attack season ignited my passion for robotics and ultimately to study electrical engineering.

What is your day job, and how’d you get there?

Before I started Electrical Engineering at UT-Austin in 2003, I started working on robotics projects with the Robotics club at UT-Austin. I was enamored with the idea of designing PCB boards and 3D parts. By my sophomore year, I assumed a leadership role of the robotics club at UT. I started the original club paperwork and re-branded into its current form, RAS. I was also fortunate to be accepted into the NASA-JSC Co-op program.  Through this experience I was able to mentor with the Robonauts in 2005, Chainzilla.

After getting another dose of FRC, I was ready to start a FIRST team in Austin. I decided to channel the power of college mentors from the UT-Austin RAS club. I randomly met a Chemistry teacher named John Sperry and we decided to form a FIRST team called the AusTin Cans 2158. Fortunately, RAS had a few great young college mentors Richard McClellan and David Yanoshak to help start the team.

I went straight into graduate school at Rice University to do research on pipe inspection robots. I founded the Rice Robotics Club (RRC) and then received an interesting phone call from Lucia Sevcik about starting up a new FRC team at Lamar High School.  After two quick meetings at the school, the DiscoBots, Team 2587 began their rookie year in 2008. After that, I got another phone call from Jason Morrella (I should probably stop answering my phone), and then the DiscoBots established the 1st VEX event in Texas called Houston VEX.

Around 2011, I finished graduate school at Rice with two masters, one in computer science on swarm robots and another in mechanical engineering on pipe inspection robots. I now have joined a startup company called Sparx Engineering doing rapid prototyping for the petroleum & medical industries. Its been more than 10 years of FIRST and I'm still having fun.

What is your favorite story to tell about robotics?

I would have to say the story I tell my kids over and over again is the DiscoBots 2009 Lone Star Regional. This was our 2nd year and we had a solid robot.  The robot didn't look elegant but it worked well and the kids really understood the Lunacy strategy.  Our student coach, Lalo Torres posted up a 20 page strategy guide to Lunacy on Chief Delphi.  We seeded 5th in the rankings and urged the 4th ranked Robonauts to pick our team.  Team 118 ended up picking 1801 and the DiscoBots picked 1421 and 704.  The quarter-final match between the Robonauts and DiscoBots was fierce and ultimately that was our biggest hurdle to winning the event.  From the quarter-finals, we went on to win the regional and performed well at championship.  
I tell this story to remind the kids every year when the Robonauts release an awesome video, that robustness & strategy can sometimes defeat elegance & beauty!  

What's your favorite robot that you didn't help build?
Encore - Wildstang 2004, that robot really inspired me and it has a great video!  

What apps/software/tools can't you live without? (Work/Robotics/Home)
Desktop Apps: Eclipse, Solidworks, Altium, Python, Matlab, Inkscape, MikTex
Web Apps: Trello, Harvest, Google Apps
Web Tools: Drupal, Wordpress, AWS,
Physical Tools: Calipers, Multimeters, Breadboards, Diag. cutters

What's your workspace setup like? (Work/Robotics/Home)
I work out of the Southfork House from the TV Show Dallas. It was built as a large model home for the Southfork community in Houston... quite odd...  However, it came on the market and Sparx Engineering now operates out of the Southfork ranch. We have a powder printer, machine shop, & circuit board build-up tools.

As a graduate student I worked in Ryon Lab at Rice University. The DiscoBots were fortunate to obtain a section of the floorspace for FRC activities.  Ryon Lab is a 5 story building with a 20 ton crane and a huge opening in the middle of the building for all sorts of experiments. I’ve seen people fly aerial vehicles, launch mini-bots, and do interesting drop tests from 3-stories.  

What do you listen to while you work?
Grooveshark: Usually making a playlist for every music show or festival I’ve attended.

What’s your schedule like during build season?
We shifted to doing Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday as a full team schedule in 2013.  That schedule worked well for the majority of the team.  We still had a sub-team of CAD & designers that would be discussing online everyday throughout build season.  

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Filtering and consuming timely information!  My multiple RSS readers, email filters, alert messages, and web productivity apps.  Allen Gregory is probably the only person who can information challenge me!  
What's the best advice you've ever received?
I think the most misunderstood and best advice is about failure
NASA mission controller Gene Kranz’s “Failure is not an option”  which I think of often in a six-week build season and projects with tight schedules.  However, in some cases, failure is definitely an option and it will be a learning experience.  

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Playing racing games on a tablet.  I don’t really play any other types of games, but if I do, I’m racing!   

Fill in the blank. I'd love to see ________ answer these same questions.
Dr. Rob Ambrose from the Robonauts and the original creator of the Robonaut!  

Anything else you want people to know about you?
I re-built an engine/interior/panels for 1984 camaro in high school. I bought the car for $500 at a junkyard!  Sold it for $2500 when I graduated high school.  

"Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement." - C.S. Lewis

Thursday, July 25, 2013

IRI Recap

Spectrum had an amazing time this past weekend at the Indiana Robotics Invitational. We were thrilled to be chosen as one of the 69 teams from around the world to be able to attend this event.

We collaborated with all three other local area teams that were invited to transport our students and equipment up to Indiana. We shared a bus with 118, 624, and 1477.

Our strategy for the event was to play strong defense in all of our matches. We can cycle well but not nearly as well as many of the other teams at the event. We knew our best chance of getting on an elimination alliance was to shut down as many of the Full Court Shooters during qualifying as we could.

Throughout qualifying we played very strong defense against some of the best robots in the world. We held 1310, 148 and 67 to two cycles each during our matches against them. After qualifications we had the honor of being selected to join the 3rd seeded alliance of teams 469, 118, and 2590. We ended up losing in our opening round of eliminations to our good friends 359, 148 and 1477. Below you will find links to all of our matches from the event. (Recorded in HD by team 2337 and the IRI event staff).

Our Match Videos

Qualifying Match #5
Qualifying Match #15 (No video yet)
Qualifying Match #32
Qualifying Match #44
Qualifying Match #54
Qualifying Match #69
Qualifying Match #75
Qualifying Match #81
Qualifying Match #99

Quarter Final Match 4-1
Quarter Final Match 4-2

Our Final Match of the Event

The trip to Indiana was well worth it for the experience of playing with the best of the best. Hopefully we will find our way back to IRI in the future.

This weekend we will be in Austin for the Texas Robot Roundup (The de facto Texas State Championship). We'll have 7 of the 69 IRI teams at this event.

Webcast URL

- Spectrum

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” - Winston Churchill

Monday, July 22, 2013

Adam Freeman - This Is How I Work

For our first mentor outside of our home state of Texas, we bring you the coach of one of the most successful FRC teams of all time. Adam Freeman joined the HOT Team (FRC#67) during their Hall of Fame 2005 season. He has been a crucial mentor of the team that has won three World Championships and three Michigan State Championships. Let's hear from him on some of his favorite designs, what he works on at GM, and how HOT has been so successful for so long.

[Responses from May 31, 2013]

Name: Adam Freeman 
CD Username: Adam Freeman (original, huh?)
Current Gig/Job: General Motors – Technical Problem Solving Supervisor
Alma Mater/Degree: 
BSME – Michigan Technological University, 2002
MSME – University of Michigan, 2010
Current Team(s): Heroes of Tomorrow (HOT) – 67, 2005-Present
Former Team(s): None
Location: Milford, MI
Hobbies: Tons…Robotics, Mountain Biking, Hunting, Motocross, Fast Cars, Sports (anything but golf). 

I’m honored to be selected as one of the first people for this project. I am always interested in learning more about the people in this community. I’m not sure there’s anything that special about me, but we’ll see what happens when I answer the questions.

Some background information that wasn't included in the questions. I started on the HOT team in 2005. From a design perspective I typically work on arms, collectors, and shooters. I have led the design of:
- The flip out “pitch fork” on our 2005 robot
- The shooter and ball storage on our 2006 robot
- The arm and roller claw in 2007
- The upper structure and arm in 2008.
- The intake, ball delivery, and shooter in 2009
- 2010’s utility shifter that pulled back the kicker and powered the panel that the gas strut hanger was attached too.
- 2011’s second stage of the elevator lift - claw grabber and short arm that hung the tubes. Also worked on part of the mini-bot chassis and developed our window motor shifter.
- Utility arm, gearbox, ball collection, and shifter in 2012.
- 2013’s shooter and shooter rotation mechanism. 

From a competition standpoint: I was assistant coach and lead advanced scout from 2005-2008. I advised our drive coach on upcoming matches (opponents and partners), reviewed previous match strategy and execution, and was responsible for developing our pick list and selecting alliance partners. This job basically consisted of watching every match of a competition and knowing every team better than they know themselves. From a scouting philosophy I usually rely on my “gut” and subjective rating of a team more so than a data driven decision. I used data such as OPR, CCWM, points, and win/loss to bolster my decisions.

In 2009, I was named as drive coach replacing our previous drive coach that retired from GM and the team. I've been privileged enough to keep the drive coach position every year since.

I am very competitive. As a coach, I get nervous before each match…always worrying about what might happen with the robot, drivers, or what we may experience from our partners or the other alliance. As soon as autonomous ends I get very “excitable” out there. I pace, I yell, I point, I jump up and down, I cheer, I tell other teams what to do or don’t do. And, I’m sure I go over the line occasionally (at least a couple times a season).

From a coaching strategy standpoint, I try to keep things as simple as possible. As a 99% offensive team, my strategies usually revolve around figuring out how we score as many points as possible, and I don’t worry much about how to slow down our opponents. Basically, if we are sacrificing our offense to stop theirs, it’s not really a strategy I would choose. Overall I try to figure out the simplest plan for us to maximize our strengths (or the strengths of the best team on our alliance), then fit our other alliance partners in around that, either as secondary offense or as defenders.

On the field coaching is my favorite thing to do in FIRST. Getting the opportunity to work with our most talented students, other team’s most talented students, and all the other great coaches has been incredible. I have been lucky enough to coach with some of the greatest coaches in FIRST; Paul and Mike Copioli (217/3539), Dan Kimura (469), Jim Zondag (33), Amir Abo-Sheer (1717), Raul Olivera, Kyle “Commander” Willick (1114), Tyler Holtzman (2056), Ricky Quinones (148), Jake Fischer (2826), just to name drop a few. I did get the chance to work with Ken Patton and JVN as well, but they have since retired from coaching…

What inspired you to do what you do? 
I moved out to the Milford Proving Grounds (MPG) in 2004. One of my co-workers at the time is the Chief Engineer (Jim Meyer) for the HOT Team. Since I was only recently married and had no kids (at the time), he thought it would be a good idea for me to help him out with the HOT team, starting in 2005. Little did I know what effect it would have on my life, one of the best decisions I have ever made. 

I joined the team not knowing anything about the mission of FIRST. I was just impressed with the robots and the opportunity to design some cool stuff that would actually be made and used on the robot. That first season was interesting. I had no idea what it meant to be a “mentor”. I worked exclusively either by myself or with Jim during the build season. I was almost just like a freshmen student… no clue what to do and figured everyone knew more than I did.

Throughout the season, I observed the students and learned more about them. Getting to know both the students and the mentor during the season, it was just such a great bunch of people to work with. Take the people, combine that with the opportunity to design cool stuff, and add in the competition aspect…I was hooked.

Some times are easier than other, but I still love doing this no matter how hard it gets.

What is your day job, and how’d you get there?
I am a Supervisor for GM’s RedX Problem Solving Team at the MPG. I get to manage 10 of the most elite problem solvers in the world! 

I started at GM directly out of College in 2002. I was lucky enough to hire in to the Air Induction group that I intern with. I was the Design Responsible Engineer for the Air Induction Systems for the 2002 Camaro, 2003 XLR, and 2005 Corvette.

In 2004 I was transferred to the MPG, in to the Product Usage and Measurement Group. This is where I worked with our Chief Engineer. In this group we created the durability tests that GM uses test durability and validate our vehicle designs.

In 2006 I switched groups to the RedX group as a problem solver. This group works on any type of Warranty, Development, Pre-production, Assembly Plant, etc… issue that GM is having an issue with. RedX is a problem solving methodology of root cause convergence based on strategy and contrast. Using this problem solving methodology we work on any part of a vehicle from “Bumper to Bumper”. I worked as a problem solver from 2006 -2009. In 2010 I was promoted to Supervisor. Either as problem solver or supervisor, I have had the opportunity to work on some of GM’s most important issues.

This is a very cool job. We have our own 6 hoist garage, full of tools. We have basically any type of measurement equipment we need (accelerometers, strain gauges, thermo-couples, etc…). We have a lab setup with a high powered microscope….and we have two talented technicians that can basically build any fixture we need. If I had to describe it quickly, we are like a CSI group for automotive issues. We work backwards from a specific customer complaint or forensics of an issue, all the way back to the specific feature or process that caused the issue.

What is your favorite story to tell about robotics?
Hmm… this is a tough one, there are so many to choose from. I don’t really have an inspiring student related story, so I guess I’ll tell the story of what happened after we won the 2010 Championship.

So around 6:45pm the last match ends, scores are announced, confetti falls all over… with our robot and 177’s robot hanging on the tower. We all are celebrating out on the field, just like everyone does each year. We keep hearing that we might have a chance to be on CNN that night, with an interview of the winners.

The on field celebration ends around 7:45pm. During the celebration, we were notified and arrangements were made for students and robots to be on CNN. Students were supposed to be on around 10pm. Awesome!

So we returned to pits for teardown. 294 was arranging with the shipping company about how to get the robots back in the crate after the interview. There was some difficulty with getting the robots back in the crates afterward, since the I believe the convention center was supposed to be closed around 10pm. Someone decided no robots were needed. So, all three robots were crated up.

We arrive at the CNN food court around 9pm with the students. As we are sitting there PR Rep comes to us and tells us the decision from CNN is that robots will be needed around 9:30pm, for a 10pm spot. After a brief discussion with her that it’s virtually impossible to have that accomplished, since the robots are crated up about a mile away… 294 decides they will attempt to get their robot out of the crate. We decide if their robot is going to be on national TV, so is ours! 177 decides the same thing.

67, 294, 177 rush to pits to un-crate robots. If you remember the distance from the CNN center to the pits was at least one mile. Most of us just sprinted that distance to get to the robots as quickly as possible. 294 is the only team with any tools available. They un-crate their robot and hand the tools to us. We arrange for our van to transport our robot and 294’s to the CNN center. Robots are turned sideways and stuffed into the seats of a 12 passenger van. 294 also re-assembles their crate and 177 carts their robot to CNN center.

The robots arrive around 10pm. 294's robot is stacked on top of our robot. The robots are pushed into the CNN center, up one elevator, over and up another, through the CNN offices, and into the studio.

The students and robots appear on the air around 10:30pm.

After that, the process was reversed, robots stuffed in van and carted back to pits, crated up, and we were out of the pits around 11-11:30pm. At the time, getting those robots on TV was almost as incredible as the upset we had over 1114, 469, and 2041. Our three teams really had awesome teamwork! 

What's your favorite robot that you didn't help build?
I really love seeing any of the truly great teams. 254’s style and performance are top of the line. The west coast style with the fully power coated CNC parts and the custom gear boxes are really inspiring to me. 148’s sheet metal designs are incredible. 118, 233, 1538, etc… these guys aren’t just building robots; they are really like works of art. 

But, as a former scout and coach what I really like is seeing the best machines perform on the field. 

Hands down, the 2008 Simbotics – Simbot SS is my favorite robot that I didn't build. With me starting in 2005, I didn't get a chance to see the dominant machines from Beatty or Chief Delphi. Simbot SS was the first really dominant machine that I saw in FIRST. Performance wise, it was basically 2x as good as the next best machine that year. The cool thing about it was that there really wasn't anything special about it. 75% of teams could have built that machine, if they thought of it. The combination of the roller claw and launcher was genius. Between the ingenious design and the incredible driving performance, they were awesome! 

Other than that, 469 – 2010 with the ball re-director was a really amazing machine that would have been cool to say I helped come up with that idea. I’m more of an “in the box” guy, so I doubt I ever would have thought of it. 

What apps/software/tools can't you live without? (Work/Robotics/Home)
Not really much that I couldn’t live without from an apps/software/tools standpoint. I have a laptop and phone for work, there’s nothing really special about either one of them. I don’t have an iPhone or anything like that. We have an internal GM application that I use for project tracking. 

For robotics we use AutoCAD for 95% of our robot designs. I’m sure this still blows peoples mind, but that just the software that we feel comfortable using. Majority of our parts are water-jet sheet metal, so we need a 2D file to send to the water-jet anyways. I will use Solidworks after the parts are designed to see how everything fits together before I send the parts to the machine shop. 

At home or other times, all I need is a TV and a computer with internet access. 99% of my evenings are spent watching TV and playing online for the hour or so of free time I have between when my kids go to bed and when I go to sleep. 

What's your workspace setup like? (Work/Robotics/Home)
Here’s a picture of my workspace at work and our RedX Garage. 

My workspace is nothing really special…a desk, some books, personal items, and about a 20” screen. I basically sit in a back room off the garage with two of my co-workers. We are surrounded by a bunch of shelves filled with measurement equipment and tools. 

For our robotics build workspace, we utilize space all over Building 40 at the MPG for robotics activities. Programming sets up in one conference room, Chairman’s in different conference room. For the design team, we use a small conference room with a projector so we can all review any designs that need to be shown. 

For assembling the robot, GM has given us a small room to work in and keep all our robotics related equipment. As you can see from the pictures, it’s not really that big when we pack all our stuff in. The robot is typically assembled on the table. It gets pretty cramped in there when everyone is trying to get their parts on the machine.

The more impressive space is the machine shop, where we have access to 95% of the machines. We basically have as many lathes and mills as we need. We also have a water-jet that we use for more parts than any other machine in the shop. 

For practice space, we setup a small field to use in the garage attached to the building. It’s about full length, but only about 2/3rd the width of a real field. We have to setup and tear it down every practice day, since we set it up in the drive alley of the garage.

What do you listen to while you work?
I don’t really listen to music while I work. If I do listen to something, I’ll usually listen to a local radio station or XM. I’d say I spend most of my time listening to local sports talk radio or one of the ESPN shows on XM. 

From a music perspective I listen to pretty much any type of music, from alternative rock to Top 20 hits, whatever seems right at the time. 

What’s your schedule like during build season?
As a team, we officially meet Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:30 – 7:30pm and Saturdays 8am-4pm.

Now, that does not mean that no other FIRST related work is performed outside of those times. I do all my design work on my work computer, so I almost always have my AutoCAD drawing or Solidworks model open anytime my computer is on. I am also always thinking about how to create a design or how to fix an issue we are having throughout the season. 

Typically, I will work on my design stuff every day at lunch time during the build season. I will also spend my evenings playing around on designing parts while watching TV. 

So in the end, I’m not sure how much time is actually spent working on the design. But I know that the time spent thinking about the robot is 24/7. I pretty much spend every spare second working on or thinking about FIRST robotics from Kickoff thru at least our first district event. After that, it really depends on how well we did and what we need to improve on. 

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Not really sure. I’m usually pretty good as most things, but I doubt I am better than everyone else at any particular everyday task. 

What's the best advice you've ever received?
I don’t think anyone has given me any great advice that was really profound for me specifically. I’d have to say the best advice I have ever heard is to “do what you love”. 

Now I don’t think that means that you only do things that you love to do or that you quit your job immediately and start doing some other thing that you really love to do, that doesn’t pay your bills. But, you should enjoy your work. You should take time to find out what your interests are and determine how you can convert that into a career. If you can’t make what you love to do into a career, make sure you don’t sacrifice it as a hobby. 

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Buffalo Wild Wings Boneless Buffalo Wings! Our core group of engineering mentors have a standing lunch date every week at Buffalo Wild Wings. The rest of the guys would probably switch up restaurants every week…and usually do when I’m not available. 

Fill in the blank. I'd love to see Dan Kimura (469) answer these same questions.

Anything else you want people to know about you? Nope.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

There is no Off-Season

A few years ago, going to two or three events with your FRC robot was a long season. We leave tomorrow afternoon for our first event of the four off-season events on our schedule. This is after a full 3 regional season earlier this year. That means seven competitions for our robot and our team. We know of other teams that are playing 8+ events this year. Off-season events are not officially run by FIRST, but most of them use official fields and follow all the official rules. The tournaments are normally smaller (besides IRI) and housed in school gyms. They give a lot more playing times to the teams.

Tomorrow afternoon we will load Gamma and our equipment on a charter bus with 3 other teams, FRC#118 The Robonauts, FRC#624 CRyptonite, and FRC#1477 Texas Torque, heading for Indianapolis. The Indiana Robotics Invitational is taking place this Friday(19th) and Saturday(20th) look for us on the webcast. Here is our tentative schedule.

We're excited for match #75 where we get to play with two of our friends from Texas 118 and FRC#148 The Robowranglers. We can't wait to play with and against so many amazing teams that we have looked up to over the last few years.

Gamma is ready for the event.  We've upgraded the shooter, made our blocker larger, and made it so our human feed doesn't ever jam.

Here are some test shots from earlier in this summer.

Immediately after IRI we head to Austin for the 2013 Texas Robot Roundup (TRR). This is going to be one of the best TRRs ever. We have 7 teams who will be at the event fresh out of IRI and a huge selection of other great teams from Texas and even FRC#364 Fusion from Mississippi.

We'll have two more off-season events after these next two weeks: Red Stick Rumble on Aug 30th & 31st in Baton Rouge and finally our local event the Houston Robot Remix on Nov 2nd.

These events allow for a great opportunity for continuous improvement and to train our members to take on new responsibilities. These also have workshops and other ways for teams to grow.

With all these events and everything else we do during the summer and fall there really is no longer an off-season in FRC.

- Spectrum

"I think a lot of our team commitment is a silent understanding that each one of us has poured our life into what we're doing." - Claire Carver-Dias

Monday, July 15, 2013

Mason Markee - This Is How I Work

In this installment of "How I Work", we're featuring a mentor that has been on competitive robotics teams since he was in middle school. Mason Markee of FRC#118, The Robonauts, was a student leader on the team when he was in High School and came back after college to work at NASA, and became one of the adult leaders of this powerhouse FRC team. This past season he was best known for his iconic mustache that led to a few epic pranks at the FRC World Championship. Now let's hear from him on his job at NASA and his dedicated involvement with educational robotics.

[Responses from May 22, 2013 ]

Name: Mason Myles Markee
CD Username: MasonMM 
Current Gig/Job: Robotics Engineer at The NASA Johnson Space Center
Alma Mater/Degree: The University of Texas at Austin; B.S. Mechanical Engineering
Current Team(s): 118, The Robonauts
Former Team(s): 118, The Robonauts
Location: Houston, TX
Hobbies: Travel, Live Music

What inspired you to do what you do?
As a young kid, I was enamored with creating, building, and taking things apart. I went through phases of LEGOs, Erector Sets, wood working, and RC cars. Before I knew what engineering was, I always wanted to grow up to be an inventor. In middle school I joined a BEST Robotics team which primed me to join a FIRST team when I reached high school. I spent four years working on The Robonauts as a student and really found a calling during those years. I captained the team for a year, coached for two seasons, and presented for the Chairman’s Award three times and twice at Championships. I learned the significance of doing things right. I discovered the rewarding value of mentoring younger students and became a true believer in the importance of robotics education and changing our culture. I think it was those experiences that motivated to become a mentor as an adult bigger kid.

What is your day job, and how’d you get there?
I work in a research and development robotics lab as a mechanical engineer, specifically concentrating on actuator design. Our group focuses on developing new systems for space and terrestrial applications. The Space Exploration Vehicle and Robonaut2 are two of our larger projects, though we have many other products. I started as a co-op at JSC my 3rd year of university and had the opportunity to work in mission control. I transferred to the robotics group the next semester. I ended up taking off three semesters from school and working in the robotics group during those times. After graduating, I was given a full time job offer.

What's your favorite robot that you didn't help build?
In 2008, 1114, Simbotics, built a dominate yet simple machine that I have always had a robot crush on. ( Many of the features that I believe are crucial to a successful and competitive robot are influenced by this machine.
  • Use a simple and reliable drive train 
  • Keep the manipulators protected behind the bumpers 
  • Always pick up the game piece with rollers 
  • Maximize the autonomous points scored 
  • Minimize the time to score a game piece

What apps/software/tools can't you live without? (Work/Robotics/Home)
I do all my CAD work in Pro/E. Of course it has its quirks, but it’s a limitless and powerful tool for designing robots. I’m a big fan of MATLAB and the flexibility it brings for making programs and crunching numbers. I use Excel or Google Spreadsheet for just about everything else in life. It’s perfect for being my go to calculator, making to-do lists, designing gearboxes, planning travel, and setting up a schedule. Most important to me our my Moleskine notebooks that I always carry - I constantly have to notate and doodle to make up for my extreme forgetfulness.

What's your workspace setup like? (Work/Robotics/Home)
At work I’m in an open lab complete with work benches, scattered tools, robot bones, and a dozen other engineers. It’s noisy, chaotic, and where the magic happens. We do design, testing, and buildup of many of our projects in this lab. There’s also a fleet of Syma S107G RC Helicopters on standby for office chopper duals. My desk remains an array of old data sheets, text books, the machinery’s handbook, notes, tools, parts, and safety glasses. 

The “real work” desk

The Robonauts have an incredible work space located in a high bay next to the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory used to store and construct space station mock ups. I spend my time working at any of the open computers, on the work tables, or in the machine shop. It’s a communal environment so personal space and belongings are limited.

Robonauts worksite, mid build season

I try to disconnect when I’m at home. When I need to work, my preferred method is to use my aging 13” Macbook on the couch.

What do you listen to while you work?
Follow me on Spotify and find out. I constantly need a flow of upbeat music through my headphones to keep on track. I jam mostly to indie/alt rock, but go through phases of hip-hop, country, and classic rock.

What’s your schedule like during build season?
Generally, we have full team meetings from 5-9pm on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and meet 12-9pm on Saturdays from Kickoff to Championships. This ramps up a bit before deadlines and big events. I stay late until at least midnight most nights, and work at least two extra days a week. Between my job and robots it was well into February before I had a full day off this season. It’s an intense schedule, but it’s what it takes to maintain our program and bring life to our team’s vision of a quality machine. The results are well worth it as our students experience the dedication it takes to build an incredible product. During the season I float between a lot of different roles including working with my subsystem on chassis design, machining parts, managing robot integration, and working with the chairman’s group.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Growing a mustache…. And consequently shaving a mustache off.

What's the best advice you've ever received?
Find your passion. I’m convinced that with determination and hard work you can accomplish most anything, but it takes a passion for what you’re chasing to keep you ever-motivated and enthusiastic. 

Oh! And, in 2011, Team RUSH and Team Pink both recommended going with an 8WD. I thought that was pretty good advice. I’ve been really happy following that tip.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Late night drive thru at Taco Bell.

Fill in the blank. I'd love to see ________ answer these same questions.
Tyler Holtzman from 2056. I’ve got a huge level of respect for the program that guy is running and machines they are building.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”  - Leonardo da Vinci