Friday, December 30, 2016

Updated CAD Library

We've updated our CAD Library that we published last year with new models from VEXpro, AndyMark, REV Robotics and more.

Also included now are Solidworks sketch blocks created by team 4183 (Bit Buckets), and Versaplanetaries that have almost every configuration you could want created by Kevin Ainsworth of Pwnage FRC#2451. will take you to our Grabcad Partnerspace

The github version of the library is located here.

Let us know if there are models that you want added or how we can improve the library.

- Spectrum

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016 Texas FRC Mentor Workshop Videos

This is from a few months ago but we finally have the video posted to Youtube. This is over 11 hours of content but if you are a new mentor there is a lot of great information in here.

- Spectrum

Spectrum Pre-Season Update

FLL, Jr. FLL, Build Season
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Spectrum Pre-season Meeting Parents & Students Jan 3rd - 5:00 PM

We will be having our Pre-season Meeting on Jan 3rd at 5:00PM. Parents and Students should attend. We will talk about the season, expectations, etc. We will discuss meals, tentative event plans, and more. Please plan on attending.


Alumni Meetup - Jan 1st

We will be meeting for dinner with any Alumni that are interested on Jan 1st at 6pm. Sign up here if you are able to come.

RSVP Here -


2017 Events - Save the Dates

  • FRC Kickoff - Jan 7th
  • Dallas Scrimmage - Feb 17-18th
  • Hub City Regional (Lubbock) - Mar 1st-5th
  • Lone Star Central (Strake Jesuit Gyms) - Mar 15-18th
  • Alamo Regional (San Antonio) - Apr 5th - 9th
  • FIRST Championship Houston (GRB Convention Center) - Apr 19th-22nd


We will be a part of a new live web show every Tuesday for the first 7 weeks of the season starting Jan 10th. More information can be found here.

New Website

Our website has been updated to make it more useful. Please visit and see what you think. It should be easier to direct people here if they are interested in starting a team at a school or volunteerng at events.

Fall Recap

  • Winners 2016 The Remix FRC Off-season Event - Photos
  • NRG FIRST Football Showcase  - Photos
  • Canstruction 2016 - Donated 3,000 Cans - Photos
  • FIRST Lego League Qualifier - Photos
  • Volunteering - Photos
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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Illuminations 2016: Rookie Resource Guide

Are you new to FRC, you probably have a lot of questions. Illuminations is here to help you get up to speed in FRC.

Here is the 2016 updated version of Illuminations

Table of Contents
1. Introduction
2. Developing your Brand
3. Communication
4. Build Season Tips
5. Post-Bag Pre-Regional
6. How to Get Picked for Eliminations
7. Texas Specific FRC Information
8. Other Advice
9. Resources Guide
10. FAQ
Appendix A: Spectrum Pit Design Guide
Appendix B: Team Tool List

- Spectrum

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Woodie Flowers: The Father of Competitive Robotics

Woodie Flowers is the co-founder of the FIRST Robotics Competition. His contributions to educational competitive robotics is remarkable. In his MIT Course 2.70, he developed a way to inspire students to work extremely hard, use engineering principles, compete like crazy, and work together with even their opponents. This model is used in nearly all of modern educational robotics competitions today, not just FIRST.

Please watch the videos below to learn more about Woodie Flowers, his course, and his legacy on competitive robotics.

Here is another good video about the course as well.

Here are a couple other great videos about the 2.70 course.
Without Woodie Flowers non of the robotics programs that we have today would ever be possible. Many of the foundational things that we take for granted like gracious professionalism, limited build time, novel challenges each year, etc all were developed under his guidance.

Thank you Professor Flowers for all your work and inspiring so many students,

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Spectrum 2016 FLL Qualifier

Our 2016 Spectrum FLL Qualifier Tournament was held Dec 3rd in the Strake Jesuit Dinning Hall.
Photos, videos and the results can be found below.

Photo Gallery 

Spectrum FLL Photo Gallery

Video Archive

Live Stream Archive

Event Results

Award Scripts 
Robot Scores Webpage

Thank you to all our wonderful Volunteers!

We hope to see all the team back next year for our 2017 event.

- Spectrum

Monday, December 5, 2016

Competitive Robotics: It's More Than Robots

Our mentor Allen Gregory gave a talk at the 2016 Houston Mini Maker Faire about why Competitive Robotics is one the best programs for students and what the students get from it. The audio and slides from the presentation is now posted to our YouTube channel and you can watch it below.

- Spectrum

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Space City Vex & Houston Renfest

We spent this past weekend at two events. On Saturday we were at Space City Vex helping out our friends the Robonauts FRC#118 with their VEX tournament. 11 of our members volunteered as refrees and field reset.

Our head coach received the volunteer of the year award for being the Head Referee of the tournament.

Sunday we did some team bonding at the Houston Renfest.

Lots of STEAMworks related items at Renfest, including this store.

We'll be off for Thanksgiving break, but we have our FLL qualifier on Dec 3rd and lots of preparation are underway for that.

- Spectrum

"Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon." - Susan Ertz

Friday, November 18, 2016

Houston Mini Maker Faire and Spacecom 2016

This past weekend we took the Stronghold field to George R. Brown Convention Center for a two very special events.

Houston Mini Maker Faire

First was the Houston Mini Maker Faire, celebrating makers and DIY experts in a variety of areas.
Full Maker Faire Gallery can be found here: 2016 Houston Mini Maker Faire

2016-11-12 23 24 452016-11-12 11 40 24
2016-11-12 03 47 262016-11-12 04 33 20


Our second event of the week was the 2nd Annual Spacecom Expo. This is a very exciting event for the space industry. NASA and many of the other organizations and companies that looking to commercialize space flight were on hand. We were able to speak to many engineers that are working to make space the next big industry. We even got to speak with Astronaut Josh Cassada about FRC.

The entire Spacecom Gallery can be found here: Spacecom 2016

2016-11-16 02 23 12-22016-11-16 03 28 56
2016-11-17 02 42 582016-11-17 03 09 35-2
2016-11-17 13 40 452016-11-17 13 42 30

In all over 5,000 people saw our FRC robots over the past week. Many were able to drive them, speak to our students and get a better understanding of FIRST's mission to change the culture.

- Spectrum

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Friday, November 11, 2016

Greg McKaskle - This Is How I Work

This week’s How I Work focuses on Greg McKaskle, a FIRST mentor of not only 2468 Team Appreciate, but also a FLL and a FLL Jr team. Greg began his involvement in FIRST through his work with LEGO which eventually led him into FRC where he has gained many years of experience mentoring 2468. Greg tells many interesting stories and advice about robotics in his article so be sure to read more to get some more insight on how he does what he does!

[Responses from October 11, 2016]
Name: Greg McKaskle
CD Username: Greg McKaskle
Current Gig/Job: Chief SW Architect-Education Focus, National Instruments
Alma Mater/Degree: Texas A&M, BS in Computer Science, EE minor
Current Team(s): 2468 - Team Appreciate, Club Oreo (FLL), Blue-Jay-Bots (FLL Jr)
Former Team(s):
Location: Austin, TX
Hobbies: SCUBA diving, wood working, raising kids

What inspired you to do what you do? Tell us a story.
I’ve always enjoyed technical diagrams and illustrations. Chilton manuals showing how a brake assembly goes together, a Popular Science article showing the subsystems of the space shuttle -- those were like a candy bar for my brain. My math and science teachers were also willing to feed me more material. Don’t be afraid to ask your teachers for more.

What is your day job, and how’d you get there?
National Instruments was just a few hundred people when I joined, so the president and other owners also performed interviews. It was very cool, because I could see that they were smart, energetic, and hard-working. I felt at home. We were writing software for Macintosh, Windows, and UNIX, all at the same time. There was a lot of work and a great group of smart people to do it with. I’ve always enjoyed talking to our customers, learning about their research or how they tested some product. Time flies when you’re having fun, and I’ve been at NI for over 25 years, providing tools that help to measure and control things in the real world.

I’ve held a number of roles over the years, but in 2004 I was given the opportunity to work on educational products with LEGO. It was a new challenge because you really need to be aware of who will use the product in what setting. You need to understand their goals and understand how to motivate them to take on a challenge. I was the technical lead, but I worked closely with designers and researchers. This naturally led to involvement in FIRST programs and eventually FRC. In my current role, I spend the majority of my time focusing on the design of the software that will allow the user to be more productive. I still review architecture and write code, but it isn’t my primary responsibility.

What is your favorite story to tell about robotics?
For the 2008 championship we needed a robot to demonstrate the cRIO control system. About a dozen people received project time to build NItro, a three-wheeled kiwi with an air cannon. I was only involved at a high level to make sure it came together. A few days before we were to ship, I reviewed the software to find that things weren’t well integrated. Everyone’s code was in their own project -- there was no flow, no coordinating panel, etc. I had a fishing/camping trip planned for the weekend, but signed up to do the integration and UI work. I picked up an inverter from Frys, packed the camping gear, kids, and laptop and went to the lake. The weekend went sorta like this -- wake up early, start campfire, write code, put water on to boil, write code, coffee, code, repeat a few times. Later in the day it was -- bait hook for kids, write code, clean fish, write code, fry fish, write code, … hand washing inserted as appropriate.
By Monday there was an editor for defining waypoints, a fancy display of controller inputs, wheel speeds, video feed, etc, just in time for the celebratory gathering where the robot showed its dog-n-pony tricks. Part of the celebration was a platter of breakfast tacos placed on a table near the wall. A new driver took the controls and immediately drove the robot into the table, dumping a large bowl of salsa into the robot. Chunks of tomato and onion were flying out of the custom CAN motor controllers, the cRIO looked like a fiesta bowl, and lots of engineers turned very pale.
The electronics were taken apart, some elements went into the sink, others went to the board wash machine. A few of us worked through the night, and 24 hours later, the robot was going again with much better safety, without driving lag, and was soon on a truck to Atlanta. No food near the robot.

What's your favorite robot that you didn't help build?
I have been impressed with many of the 1986 robots. Cool team, cool designs, and they deliver the autonomous points.

What apps/software/tools can't you live without? (Work/Robotics/Home)
I use Sketchup quite a bit -- for furniture design, landscaping, and basic 3D sketching. I use Keynote for slides and 2D work. I fell in love with Painter when it was by Fractal Design. It is not as robust these days, but I still love using it. And of course I write a ton of stuff in LabVIEW, Mac and Windows versions, and my go to dev tool is XCode.

What's your workspace setup like? (Work/Robotics/Home)
My primary computer is a MacBook Pro. It is pretty loaded and runs Windows on Parallels. I often have twenty apps open. I do lots of work away from my desk, but here is a photo of that.

What do you listen to while you work?
Long periods of listening to nothing, then I binge on stuff. Lately, Brown Sabbath, Reckless Kelly, and Sia.

What’s your schedule like during build season?
I think it is important to balance shop and family time. So sometimes my kids are at the shop on Saturday or for an afternoon. I probably spend between six and twenty hours on a given week. I stay in touch in between visits, reviewing code and answering questions via email, etc.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Modesty. Next question please.

What's the best advice you've ever received?
Our CEO, Dr T, is retiring this year, and to paraphrase him -- Know where you want to go, start from where you are.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
I’m pretty fond of coffee I guess.

Fill in the blank. I'd love to see _ Joe Ross__ answer these same questions.

Anything else you want people to know about you?
I’m not into the robots that much. I do FIRST because of the impact I believe it makes to future generations.

“Make it work” -- Tim Gunn

Monday, November 7, 2016

Canstruction and Barnes&Noble Mini Maker Faire 2016

Press releases from this weekends events.


Spectrum 3847, St. Agnes Academy & Strake Jesuit Preparatory students, use their engineering design skills to combat hunger at the CANstruction Houston Design Build Competition benefiting the Houston Food Bank

(Houston, TX) Spectrum 3847 took on the challenge of building a structure made of 3,000 cans on Saturday, November 5th. The fun event showcased 32 design and high school teams’ colossal structures made out of full cans of food which will be donated to the Houston Food Bank.

“It was so rewarding for Spectrum 3847 students to participate in this unique design competition to help end hunger. The students designed their CANsculptures with an engineering software called Solidworks. This is the same software the team uses to build their FIRST FRC robot. The teens constructed “Hunger is no imaginary” featuring the famous duo Calvin and Hobbes. They took what they learned in the classroom and applied it to real life. Fred Wilson, Jr. from Wallace Garcia Wilson Architects, Inc sponsored the team.” said Spectrum 3847 Engineering Coach/Mentor Allen Gregory IV. “This is our fifth year participating in CANstruction. We have donated over 15,000 cans to the Houston Food Bank. It helps provide meals for the holiday season.”

Photographer: Suanne Bouvier

More Photos are located on our smugmug page:

Barnes and Noble Mini Maker Faire

We were also at the Barnes and Noble Mini Maker Faire this weekend as well.

Spectrum 3847 inspires young children and their families at the Barnes & Noble Mini Maker Faire

(Houston, TX) On Saturday, November 5th Spectrum 3847 engineering high school students showcased their FRC robot at the annual Barnes & Noble Mini Maker Faire. Children had an opportunity to talk to the teens about the robot, learn about FIRST, and get excited about their potential in science, technology, engineering and math.

The Mini Maker Faire at Barnes & Noble brought together tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, engineers, science club members, students, entrepreneurs, hobbyists and Makers of all kinds to learn from each other, get craft ideas and science fair project ideas, hear the experts, and work on projects.

Photographer: Suanne Bouvier

More Photos on our smugmug:

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Katie Widen - This Is How I Work

In this week’s How I Work, we’re delving into the life of a Katie Widen a former student of 1675 who is also the Co-founder and former mentor of 3928. Katie is currently working as a Software Engineer at VEX Robotics while mentoring 1296 and training to be an FTA. Katie tells interesting stories about her time on her team and the different things she has learned through her many years in robotics. Read more to know more about Katie and her experiences to become the amazing mentor she is now!

[Responses from September 28, 2016]

Name: Katie Widen
CD Username: Katie_UPS
Current Gig/Job: Software Engineer at VEX Robotics
Alma Mater/Degree: Iowa State University - BS in Computer Engineering
Current Team(s): 1296 - Full Metal Jackets
Former Team(s): 1675 - The Ultimate Protection Squad (student), 3928 - Team Neutrino (mentor and co-founder)
Location: Greenville, TX
Hobbies: Rock climbing, sewing, ukulele, painting, and playing with my dog

What inspired you to do what you do? Tell us a story.
Unlike many kids who join FRC, I had no intentions of becoming an engineer: I was going to be a journalist or a psychologist. I joined 1675 (UPS) because my siblings did it and I wanted to animate/write but quickly was whisked into welding and building. When I was 15 I went to Boston with my mom and visited the MIT Museum of Science. I got to interact with these very delicate and precise kinetic sculptures that combined engineering and art. There and then, I decided I wanted to be an engineer. Because of all my work building and designing with 1675, I figured I would be a mechanical engineer. It wasn’t until college when I took a programming class on a whim that I determined I wanted to be a computer engineer.
By my sophomore year of college, I got hired as a Teaching Assistant and ran hands-on programming labs where students applied what they learned in lecture to write functioning code. I had to answer questions, reteach concepts, and started running review sessions for additional help. I loved that job so much I almost switched to teaching, but instead decided I wanted my engineering work to apply to education (a large part of how I ended up at VEX).

What is your day job, and how’d you get there?
I write firmware for VEX Robotics, which is to say I write code that enables student’s programs to turn motors and read sensors.

I had a friend working here who encouraged me to apply for an internship. I received an offer but declined it because I wanted to try working at one of the big programming companies. While that was an interesting experience, I wasn’t really interested of the type of work I was doing and the company’s values didn’t resonate with me.

I applied again to VEX because I wanted to work somewhere that was making products with social impact and for the educational sphere. I interned the summer before my last semester at Iowa State and created an automated tool for testing firmware updates. During my time there, I got an offer for a full time position that I later accepted. I’ve been a full time employee since February of 2016.

What is your favorite story to tell about robotics?
When Neutrinos (3928) was a rookie team:
First: Our team name was almost “i.” Not “Team i” or even a capitol “I,” just lowercase “i.” The next day we came back to the shop and all agreed that we should pick a different name.

Second: This was 2012 when part of the game involved balancing on a bridge with other robots and we were looking for the easiest way to balance with other teams. The Q&A said the plastic ball deflectors under the bridge counted as bridge, so we set out to build a 7 in’ tall robot that could fit between the ramp and plastic and also shoot high goals. This was incredibly difficult, but we went at it anyways.

During Week 5, the Q&A deemed our strategy illegal. The shooting part of the robot didn’t work that well anyways so we decided to do a major rebuild. Our students bagged a belly pan, bumpers, and some wheels and then completed Build Season Round II: Withholding Allowance Edition, where we completely rebuilt our ball grabbing and shooting mechanisms to be under 30 pounds before our regional (where we seeded 5th).

What's your favorite robot that you didn't help build?
Simbotics (1114) 2008: This is probably one of the most popular answers to this question, but that robot was seriously incredible. I was a rookie that year and we played against Simbotics at our first regional. My team bit off more than we could chew and ended up with a drive base and a non-functioning telescoping elevator. In contrast, there was Simbot SS: a beautiful machine that played the game with ease at our week 1 regional. I was in awe of this dominating robot and saw the potential of what could be built. My team’s alliance somehow beat them in a qualification match but they went on to win the event and worlds that year.

I also have to give some love to Winnovation’s (1625) robots from 2008-2011. They liked to do a lot of crazy things (6-wheel swerve drive, anyone?) without a lot of technical mentors or excessive resources. My high school team was always fond of them: we loved that you could see holes in the wrong places (evidence of lots of student involvement) and how they proved you could succeed with the right attitude and hard work.

What apps/software/tools can't you live without? (Work/Robotics/Home)
My short-term memory is pretty terrible, so I live off of to-do lists for work and home, and I really like Trello for this. I use the app, the web version... I even have some email filters set up so I can email myself items to add to cards. In a similar vein I use a lot of sticky notes, both virtual on my desktop and physical on my desk.

I also use google calendar pretty heavily to keep track of my time and prevent over scheduling. I used to block out what I was doing every hour in college/high school to get my homework and projects done on time, but now it’s just to make sure robotics doesn’t overlap with vet appointments and to remember when Battlebots is on.

What's your workspace setup like? (Work/Robotics/Home)
My work desk is very messy, as a side effect of the type of work I do. Because my job involves programming various microprocessors, I currently have 6 different boards on my desk and associated wires to power/program/debug.  I use three monitors, typically one with code, one with my communication (email, slack), and another one with whatever reference material I need. On top of all that, I have a power supply, oscilloscope, headphones, and a cup of tea.

For home, I like to sit on my couch with my feet up. I don’t do much productive work at home, unless it’s sewing - where I use a basic Singer sewing machine on whatever surface I can find (typically my kitchen table).

For robotics, 1296 has a really neat build space inside an industrial building. The whole shop used to be just for us (and the owners who worked out of some offices) but it very recently has been turned into a Makerspace, which will be an interesting dynamic for the team. The best part of the makerspace -for me- is that it partially enabled/encouraged our team to acquire an in-house welding set up.

You’ll most often find me in the welding booth during build season. Other welders know that safety and prep are the most important parts of welding, so most of the set-up revolves around that. I keep lots of wire brushes (clean surfaces make better welds) and a grinding wheel for electrodes (they need to be sharpened like pencils), and everyone in the booth with me is wearing protective gear (jackets, gloves) and welding masks so no one goes blind. I run a tight ship when welding is involved because the risk for injury is so high, and I train team welders to do the same. I can never remember which welders I’ve used: as long as it’s TIG and functioning, I don’t really care.

What do you listen to while you work?
Lately I’ve been really into the soundtrack from Guardians of the Galaxy, but typically I like to listen to a lot of electronic music, namely house, to get my energy up and keep my focused. If I’m in a more mellow mood I listen to a lot of instrumental/orchestral music. However, I’ve been known to listen to one song on repeat for hours if I really need to zone in which can be anything from pop (“Chandelier” by Sia) to house (“Hey Hey Hey” by Thomas Jack) to acapella (anything by Pentatonix), or even video game music (“Rainbow Road” from Mario Kart 64).

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
I’m pretty good at noticing when someone gets a haircut. Not amazing, but pretty good.

What's the best advice you've ever received?
“Always ask questions.” The first time I vividly remember receiving this advice was at a performance review in an internship, where despite asking lots of questions, they thought I wasn’t asking enough. Since then, I realized asking questions has led me to a lot of opportunities and knowledge that I would’ve had otherwise (and helps with grades, you learn more when you ask questions).

I think it’s important to ask how and why about everything... and not just in an academic sense. I think people worry that asking questions/asking for help makes them look dumb, but it doesn’t - and struggling for no reason other than not wanting to look dumb is way worse. Additionally, I’ve noticed most people genuinely tend to enjoy answering questions and sharing their knowledge. This ties nicely with one of my favorite mottos: “If you’re the smartest person in the room then you’re in the wrong room.”

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
I love watching teen dramas on Netflix. I’m in the middle of Switched at Birth and just started Secret Life of the American Teenager. I hear Pretty Little Liars is good, so I might add that to the list.  

Fill in the blank. I'd love to see Renee Becker - The Executive Director of IndianaFIRST answer these same questions.

Anything else you want people to know about you?
I’m training to be an FTA - a process that has led me to a lot of different places and meeting a lot of different people. Big thanks so some folks in Indiana who helped start my journey and to Iowa FTC for giving me a place to grow and learn. The volunteer group in Texas has also been pretty awesome in welcoming me and providing opportunities, and my employer has been very supportive of this endeavor.

Outside of robotics (and everyone should have a life outside of robotics), I make a lot of quilts, climb indoor (and occasionally outdoor) rock walls, and tell a lot of dad jokes.

"I have not failed. I've just found 10000 ways that won't work." - Thomas A. Edison