Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dell Business Plan Challenge Recap

We were finalists in the Dell Business Plan Challenge put together by Dell and FIRST in Texas. This summer competition was designed to allow FRC teams to better their presentation skills while displaying FIRST front and center before of Dell's executive team. Teams would present their outreach ideas to them in hopes of receiving $3,000 to make their goals a reality. The other two finalists would both receive $500. Since this is the first time an event like this has taken place, we want to provide some details so that other teams can be more prepared for similar events in the future.

The competition was announced on June 2nd. The requirements for entering the competition were emailed out to teams in Texas and posted on the FIRST in Texas Website here and in this presentation.

Submission Requirements (from the presentation linked above)

Participating FRC teams will submit the following collateral to the challenge management team by June 20th
–(details on all of these items are provided below)
–A link to a copy of your team’s business plan
–A one-page summary of your team’s qualifications and business plan proposal
–A short PowerPoint presentation providing background for your proposal
–A link to a video of your team presenting your proposal
–A link to your team’s Chairman’s Award video
–A link to a video of your team’s robot in action (match play preferred)
 All of this had to be done in under three weeks which was not a lot of time. Luckily this was something we wanted to do so we made time for it.

Here is our initial submission package to Dell.

Business Plan:

One Page Summary:


Video of presentation:

Chairman’s Award video:              

Video of Robot:

The video was a blast to shoot. We didn't have time to memorize our presentation so we set up a system that allowed us to use one of our member's iPads as a teleprompter.  

Here is a behind the scenes shot of the presentation filming. We shone light from a halogen work lamp on an old presentation board and an old sponsor check which reflected the light onto the presenters. The teleprompter was merely an iPad supported by some foam we had lying around. Both presenters wore microphones plugged into a headphone splinter connected to the DSLR camera we used for filming. We shot the whole video in one of our school stairwells from about 8:30pm-10:30pm.

We submitted our information on June 19th since we were setting up for the Texas Robotics Invitational on June 20th and would be unable to work on it. On July 2nd we were notified  that we were one of the three finalists in the competition. At the time we did not know who the other two finalist were, but we quickly learned that they were our friends FRC#2881 and FRC#418 both from Austin.

We had several conference calls throughout the process detailing how the final stage of the competition would be handled. 

We learned that on July 15th we would be presenting directly to the Dell Executive Leadership which included Michael Dell himself, the very top of the Dell corporate structure. The competition would be similar to the television show Shark Tank, since we would be pitching our outreach ideas to compete for the $3,000.

This timing was not perfect since the time we would normally use to prepare for an event like this had already been committed to running our SPECTaculaR summer course at a local Boys and Girls as well as the Texas Mentor Workshop the Friday and Saturday before the event. That basically meant we would have as little as two days to prepare for the competition. We did what we could beforehand but with many events and a few of our key team members traveling during that time it wasn't easy.

We worked the night of 13th and left for Austin Monday afternoon. When we go to our hotel room we went straight to work ironing out the presentation script, designing the slides, and making the leave behind.

Our proposal in a nut shell was to purchase robotics kits for the organizations that we work with so that they can continue the STEM development during the months that we don't work with their students.

The day of the event we had to check out of the hotel but we still needed to practice the presentation. We drove to a local wings place for lunch and practice. Pro tip; look around a restraunt for a table near an outlet, that 

The competition was held at Austin's Thinkery, something akin to a children's museum. FRC#2468 Team Appreciate played a huge part in bringing this event into existence and they were there providing logistical support for the event. After we did introductions, we did a short demonstration of the robots before we presenting to the judges. 

Our presentation team did an awesome job.

We weren't allowed to watch the presentation by the other teams but from what we heard they all did a fantastic job and had wonderful ideas for how we can better reach out to students and get them inspired to pursue STEM in their futures.

In the end the award went to FRC#2881 The Lady Cans. The judges said that they had a great idea and back it up with a strong plan for measuring their success. Congratulations to them on winning the event and congratulations to LASA FRC#418 for making it to the finals as well.

Thank you to Dell and FIRST in Texas for putting on such a great event. Our team had an awesome time and it's always nice to see our friends from Austin. We even got Michael Dell's autograph.

Dell had their media team on hand to film the presentations and we'll be sure to send out a link once they get that out to us.

- Spectrum

"The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation". - Bertrand Russell

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Ballad of Sprinkle(s) (Branding a Team in Under 12 Hours)

On a sunny July day in Ft. Worth, Texas, a simple question was asked. If you are given a different team number when you run two robots at an off-season event, why not just create a second team? Of course, these things are easier said than done.  After all, some teams take years to build a brand, but this team was to compete in less than 12 hours. How could a brand be built in so little time with so few resources? The team pondered this seemingly impossible problem. For awhile it seemed all hope was lost, but then the team had a brilliant idea.

"TO THE DOLLAR TREE!" they cried.

And so after the pits were closed and dinner was consumed the team trekked to the nearby Dollar Tree with but a few hours to form a workable theme. The team spread out and scrutinized each and every aisle. Several options presented themselves. A beach theme or an American theme seemed quite doable, and the abundance of school supplies and cleaning supplies sparked many creative ideas. However once the team intensely discussed these and many other options, one idea indisputably stood high above all others. It was at this very moment that this team's simple question gave birth to a new phenomenon: BIRTHDAYBOTS. 

The brilliance behind this idea was clear: Everyone loves alliteration and the Dollar Tree is full of birthday supplies. After this revelation was had, BirthdayBots purchased a plethora of celebration gear including party blowers, birthday hats, tablecloths, hanging signs, birthday balloons, centerpieces, and more. In total they spent just under $15.

Then BirthdayBots triumphantly proceeded back to their hotel, where they solidified their new team's philosophy. They composed a creed which defined BirthdayBots' values and mission. BirthdayBots believe that everyone should be treated like it's their birthday, every day. They strive to celebrate everyone and wish the best to all with whom they interact by greeting everyone with an enthusiastic "Happy Birthday". When they are introduced at the start of matches they blow the birthday party blowers to signal the start of the party.

Also one artistically-talented student quickly designed a fun but professional-looking logo for for FRC#9997 BirthdayBots.

The next day, BirthdayBots festooned their trusty robot Sprinkles(s) (they never decided whether or not the name was plural) with tinsel and pennants so it would be as birthday themed as possible. Sprinkle(s) is a pneumatics-free version of Spectrum's practice robot, meaning that Sprinkle(s) is unable to launch balls or pick them up from the floor. It is, however, able to human load, kiss pass, and pass back.

Here is Sprinke(s) first match of the day:

Sprinkle(s) played its preliminary matches with much spirit and bravery. Unfortunately, Sprinkle(s) was unable to compete in the final matches due to a shortage of teams. Sprinkle(s), regrettably, will be missed.

The rest of the matches can be found on the YouTube playlist for RoboReboot.

Match Listing and Results are all on The Blue Alliance.

- Spectrum

“Why not go out on a limb? That's where the fruit is.” - Will Rogers

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Wendy Holladay - This Is How I Work

This week we are looking into the life of Wendy Holladay, a very supportive member of her team, always helping and encouraging her students to get the energy to move forward. She is a dedicated founder to her team and doesn’t let anything get in her way. 
[Responses from Jun 4, 2014]

Name: Wendy Holladay
CD Username: Wendy Holladay      
Current Gig/Job: Electrical Engineer
Alma Mater/Degree: BS Chemistry (1980), BSEE in Electrical Engineering (1981) both from the University of Miami
Current Team(s): FRC 1912 Combustion
Former Team(s): Various Jr. FLL teams
Location: Slidell, Louisiana
Hobbies: Cooking, Baking, Jigsaw Puzzles, Traveling to National Parks

(2013 Bayou Regional: Wendy Holladay pictured with daughter Rachel, son Sam, husband Ken and long-time robotics friend, Curtis Craig, who is also a Woodie Flowers Award Winner at the Bayou Regional and who presented the award. Missing are the two older Holladay children, Ben and Annie.)

What inspired you to do what you do? Tell us a story. 
I had a BS in chemistry and I was marrying a math professor. I realized that having a PhD in chemistry would make is difficult to find a job in the same place as my husband. Chemistry requires a PhD. I was always better in engineering so in 1.5 years, I got my BS in electrical engineering degree.

What is your day job, and how’d you get there?
Thirty-two years ago I answered an ad in the newspaper. I’m the Electrical lead on a rocket engine test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center. We test developmental rockets, not production ones and many times we are surprised at the results.

What is your favorite story to tell about robotics? 
Going into the 2010 season, our team’s robot had been dead last two years in a row. I knew we couldn’t continue like this. I had a vision of remaking our team so that instead of being centered only around the robot, that we would center our FIRST’s vision and outreach. At that time, none of the other mentors on our team saw the importance of the Chairman’s Award and what it stood for. I actually got a lot of pushback. Winning the Chairman’s Award our first year (2010) was absolutely incredible but it was even better to watch the students as they won over and over again (2010-2013). It was after our first win that the entire team became incredible energized. There was a core group of students whose enthusiasm and dedication was not only contagious but inspiring. They all saw the importance of our outreach mission and went crazy with it. For me, it was awesome not only to watch the team transform but also to help the students as I saw them transform and grow.

What's your favorite robot that you didn't help build?
I really like the clever ideas that make you say, “Who came up with that?”
     148 in 2008. I remember watching it go round and round at the Bayou Regional. Such a simple strategy that was so effective. Nicknamed “what was that little octagon that went round and round and round”
     469 in 2010. This idea was incredibly out of the box. It was fun to see it on Einstein. Nicknamed “those people who outsmarted everyone and just fed the balls through like boom-boom-boom”
     33’s stinger in 2012. I’m pretty sure they were the first to introduce the stinger. Our drivers, when balancing, would always rock back and forth and it was so nerve wracking to watch. Then this team comes with a simple, elegant solution.

What apps/software/tools can't you live without? (Work/Robotics/Home)
The internet. I’m also especially attached to my Android phone and in terms of software I’m a fan of Google Apps, especially Gmail. With 4 children in college, it is the communication method for our family.

What's your workspace setup like? (Work/Robotics/Home)
     Work: I use my NASA laptop with a docking station. In my office I have a couch, which I've had for most of my career. Also, as a gift from my daughters, near my computer sits a small WALL-E doll, which always reminds me that robotics should be fun
   Home: Well lit, large two story living room, adjacent to my engineer designed kitchen, with granite counter tops and my black Kitchen-Aid mixer (best counter top alliance ever). No single use item. Upstairs a large bonus room, where many, many robot functions have occurred, Beta testing, training, team meeting, and robot builds.
     Robotics: We moved a new build space this year at the high school, the company whose facility we used closed. We are still adjusting to as it is arguably not as good as our old one. I truly loved our old space and dislike our new one. .

What do you listen to while you work?
I do not usually listen to music while I work.

What’s your schedule like during build season?
I go to work. Then I go home to make dinner. I cook every night. Then I go to build. A good meal is always worth making.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Superb chef and baker.  On numerous occasions I’ve cooked and baked for the team.

What's the best advice you've ever received? 
I actually more remember the advice I didn’t take. Over the years I was often told I couldn’t do something. That I couldn’t have four kids, that I couldn’t be an engineer, that I couldn’t go part time, that I couldn’t start a robotics team. Over and over again, I was told I couldn’t do xyz and sometimes it was because women can’t do it. As I said, I didn’t take that advice and did it all anyway.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
I am at an age where I no longer feel guilty about these types of things

Fill in the blank. I'd love to see ________ answer these same questions.
Fredi Lajvardi from FRC 842 Falcon Robotics (2013 Woodie Flowers Award Winner)

Anything else you want people to know about you?
-All 4 of my children were on our robotics team. My 2 eldest founded the team, my 2 youngest transformed the team. I now have 4 children in college, 2 in grad school, physics and robotics, 2 undergrad, 1 twin double majoring in computer science and robotics, other twin majoring in electrical engineering. 2 in California, 2 in Pennsylvania. 
-The post was scribed by my daughter Rachel Holladay
2009 Bayou Regional: Ben (grad school UC San Diego Phd Physics), Annie (grad school Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute Phd Robotics), Rachel (undergrad Carnegie Mellon, double major Robotics and Computer Science), and Sam Holladay (undergrad UC Berkeley Electrical Engineering)

“If you are going through hell, keep going” - Winston Churchill

“CREAM - Cash Rules Everything Around Me” - Wu Tang Clan

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Alex Cormier - This Is How I Work

Alex Cormier was one of the founding members of team 1126 and since then, he has been on several other FIRST teams. He designs and makes items such as trophies, custom graphics, etched glass, and other creative custom projects on his website:
In this edition he tells us the story of how he got interested in FIRST and why he chose to stick with it. 

[Responses from June 1, 2014]

Name: Alex Cormier
CD Username: Alex Cormier
Current Gig/Job: Machine Builder
Alma Mater/Degree: Alfred State College; Electro-Mech; Ass.
Current Team(s): 1405
Former Team(s): 229, 1126, 1930, 2228, 3181
Location: Rochester, NY
Hobbies: Robots, Darts, Bon Fires

I want to thank Team 3847 for the opportunity for me to participate in this great initiative. The opportunity to learn about other people in the FRC community is great.

What inspired you to do what you do?
The truth is FIRST inspired me to be and do what I am about nowadays. Back in my youth I was playing football and wrestling. One evening during wrestling practice, I was on the mat and couldn’t raise my left leg more than 3”. I went to see the doctor the next day. I needed surgery for a dislocated hip and wasn’t allowed to play any more physical sports. That same year, I was at home watching tv when I noticed these robot competitions on ESPN. I looked over to my mom in the kitchen and told her I want to do that some day. Amazingly enough, when school started back up the next year, there was an informational meeting for a team in my high school, SparX out of Webster, NY team 1126. Back in 2003, was our first year and it was amazing, so I have been hooked ever since.

What is your day job, and how’d you get there?
In this day and age, one income is just not enough to get me by with all my toys. J
During the day, I am a machine builder. I wire and fabricate equipment for automated machines. I build anything from small enclosures to giant 140’ 4 line conveyor systems to assemble fuel injectors.

At night, I have my own business; Two Pencil Designs. We like to design items to help contribute to the robotics community. The other half of the business is glass etching, where we go to a few local festivals and sell our wonderful glassware.  
Here's a link to my website:

What is your favorite story to tell about robotics?
My favorite story comes from my very first competition. After we won the competition at buckeye (thanks to 27 and 540), the driver came running over to me and in the process of going crazy, we knocked over the huge section of pipe and drape. Celebrate at all costs, right?

What's your favorite robot that you didn't help build?
Team 67’s 2004 machine. I had the liberty to see and compete with that machine for 1 regional victory and 1 divisional victory. That was a beastly machine and so good looking. Vinyl flames make everything look better.

What do you listen to while you work?
There’s usually a radio or two on in the shop at work. Just the local stations like oldies, rock, and country.

What’s your schedule like during build season?
Robotics is my favorite when it comes to winter. (Our local NHL hockey team isn’t that great anymore…) So I will go to as many meetings as possible. I can easily say that I have been to robotics 90% of the days from kick off to bag day. That also includes voluntary days.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
I always like to think of things that I can make money on. I would walk to through stores, look at items and see what I can do to make them better and sell them.

What's the best advice you've ever received?
Nothing ever gets done, without first trying.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Currently it is Darts. I have joined a few local leagues. It’s a great time and lets me keep that competitiveness when robotics isn't going on.

Fill in the blank. I'd love to see ________answer these same questions.
Dustin Benedict.

Anything else you want people to know about you?
If you need any vinyl graphics, team awards, and, pretty much anything else, contact me! I love to get creative and build things!

I have been doing FRC since 2003 and was a student from 03-05. From 2006 to present day, I have been in the following roles: lead mechanical mentor, coach, Lead FLL mentor, a volunteer at many regional and championships, an off-season competition committee member, and business owner. 

“There’s only one way to succeed in anything, and that is to give it everything. I do, and I demand that my players do.” – Vince Lombardi