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

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Chairman's Award - Houston 2020

We were honored to receive the Chairman's Award for the suspended Houston 2020 District Event.

Here is our 2020 Chairman's Video.

Congratulations to the other FIRST in Texas District Chairman's Award Winners!

- Spectrum

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Spectrum 2020 Design Slides

Throughout the season we kept a design slide deck that allowed us to keep notes and document our designs and ideas. We are releasing this to the public so people can see how some of our ideas developed. We did go back through this document to add a few slides that were based on notes in other places and it was updated throughout the season so some of the kickoff area slides aren't really from kickoff.


Friday, March 6, 2020

Everybot Progress Photos + Gluing Balls


Our Everybot project should be driving next week. We made a few changes from the original design already but overall, it's mostly stock. The two biggest changes are it has a NEO for a climber motor and only has one set of gear on the arm.


Ball Glue

Team update 16 has a link to a ball repair guide for events. We wanted to test the glue that is specified and see how repaired balls felt. We bought the glue and repaired a ball and left it overnight. It seems to seal up the cuts pretty well but with our first test ball, it didn't cause the cuts to become airtight again so the ball was still easy to compress, similar to before we glued the cuts. The places that are glued do feel a bit harder, then normal places on the ball. We glued the rest of our cut-up balls today and we should be able to test shooting them next week. (we are taking the weekend off, everyone needs a break)



Wednesday, March 4, 2020

VP Ratchet Climber Lock

Many teams have asked us about our climber break from last season. We mentioned possibly using it this season and showed a small CAD image.

We want to give a full story into the development of this break.

Last season we planned to use the VP ratchet in a normal way and have a cylinder pull a string to disengage the pawl.  When we did that we either could disengage the pawl or couldn't engage it properly. We also heard of people breaking the pawls.

While at champs we were looking for a way to brake our climber that didn't use the pawl. SOTAbots (FRC#25570 were in our division and they had a great climber break that they showed us. Here is a picture we took.

We worked in our pit to make a version of this but we couldn't custom make the parts they did. So we removed the out shell of the ratchet and just used the spacers. We also tried to use a normal bolt but we broke it, so instead, we just use the pneumatic rod end directly into the ratchet. We found that it didn't damage the rod end at all when doing this.

For IRI our setup looked like this.
IRI ratchet setup 2019.PNG
The VP dual input doesn't have the rear bolts so we need to clamp on the cylinder.

We have heard from several teams that have used this setup with great success. We aren't using it this year. For Dripping Springs we were able to just use our NEO climb motors in brake mode, with about a 30:1 reduction on our elevator and our robot would stay in the air for more than enough time to keep the climb.

We do have a latch mounted on our robot.
Climber Latch 2020.PNG
This latch uses a laser-cut Delrin ratchet that is pressed on to the pinion of one of our NEOs. We haven't tested this setup yet as we haven't needed it. We do plan to get it working so if we climb late enough to not be at the top of our climb we will stay off the ground.


Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Design Review Comp Week 2 - Dripping Springs Debrief

Debrief and Design Review

The design review and debrief slides are below. For our first event, we wanted to keep things simple and straight forward.

Our plans included.
- 3 Ball Autonomous that could push one or two robots off the initiation line and then get us ready for telop.
- Quick cycles to the initiation line area when possible or the tench-run when needed. It was okay to shoot 3 to 5 balls per cycle.
- Climb every match

We did most of these well, our omni-wheels breaking due to side impacts was an unexpected hurdle that will have resolved before our next event. There were many matches where we were limping along due to these issues.

Moving forward we plan to iterate and improve our machine, get more rigorous driver practice, and improve our auton scoring. We are also stopping development on the buddy climb after seeing several failed attempted climbs by other teams that had similar designs to ours.

Design review #9 1.PNG
Design review #9 2.PNG
Design review #9 3.PNG
Design review #9 4.PNG
Design review #9 6.PNG
Design review #9 5.PNG
Design review #9 7.PNG
Design review #9 8.PNG

Notes from Dripping Springs

- We had a fantastic alliance with 1477 and 3240
- It's always great getting to work with Scott and 1477 they are one of the programs that we have been looking up to for many years. It was awesome to finally get to win an event with them.
- We have no idea how 3240 fell all the way to the 24th pick. We had them much higher in our scouting tiers. They had a great drive train (6 NEO Ball shifter) that was ready to play defense when asked and a drive team that was knowledgable and skilled to do it. They were also one of the few teams with a working control panel device and nearly got it done in several of our playoff matches. They were awesome to work with; taking advice and applying it quickly to get even better every match.
- The ball stuck in our drive train was a pain to get out. -
- The volunteers and venue were awesome. April and Tim did a great job working with teams and getting through week 1 field issues.

Monday, March 2, 2020

2020 Dripping Springs District Quick Recap


We will have our debrief meeting/design review tomorrow after school, so we should have a full recap then.

We had a great time at the Dripping Springs District Event. The volunteers and venue were wonderful. We highly recommend teams sign up for this event in future years.

Our students did an awesome job of preparing for the competition and getting the robot ready. We knew for our first event we wanted to keep things simple and do what we knew we could do well. We shot largely from one or two areas and attempted to climb every match. We had several issues through the event that we had to work through to be ready for each match but we pushed hard in the pit to get things ready every time. It led us to an 17-1 record, the #1 seed, and the Championship with our partners Texas Torque (FRC#1477) and Team Orion (FRC#3240).

We also prepared heavily to speak with the judges both in the pits and for Chairman's. We won the Engineering Inspiration Award for our work in providing resources for FRC teams and spreading STEM in our community. Our Chairman's team did an excellent job preparing and presenting for the judges, our feed back was positive which is always good. There were several amazing teams at this event and only one could win, and we couldn't be happier for our friends and alliance partners Texas Torque, they have one of the best programs in the world and it's always fun working with them, what they do for their local community and for communities around the world is truly amazing.

More photos and videos can be seen in our photo gallery -

Thank you to all the volunteers and teams for making it a great event,

Thursday, February 27, 2020

2020 Day 54: Competition Robot Ready for Dripping Springs

It's been about a week since our last update. The competition robot has been coming together since then. Here are a few photos and the robot description flyer for Ultraviolet

Ultraviolet 2020 Poster 18x24-1.png

We have been to our friends FRC#5414 Pearadox's build site to practice twice this week. Once with out practice bot and tonight with our competition robot. Below is the first match simulation that we did. We are still tuning some things but we are very excited about the shooter and climber.

We didn't post our last design review so here those are below.

Design review #8 4.PNG
Design review #8 6.PNG
Design review #8 5.PNG
Design review #8 1.PNG
Design review #8 2.PNG
Design review #8 3.PNG
Design review #8 7.PNG


Friday, February 21, 2020

2020: Day 45 (plus a few of the previous days)

Comp Robot is beginning to come together. 



Now with more polycarbonate

Shooter Hood

Printed and laser cut hood.

Camera Mounts are progressing


Buddy Climb Mechanism

The deployment mechanism is progressing.

More photos and videos can be found in our gallery.