Virtual Robotics? Not An Issue!

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Jenna Tryan, Staff Reporter

For FIRST Robotics team Crevolution, social distancing regulations have made it difficult to train new members. How can you learn to build a robot or run a team from home?

Back in the fall, student leaders of this high school team began planning, determined to make the best of their limited resources. The main focus was on training the technical sub-teams: design, programming, build and controls.

Teaching a skillset as physical as building a robot works best with in-person training. Leaders of Crevolution’s Build sub-team relied on PowerPoints and video demonstrations until they were able to get into the build site in February 2021. From this, one of the leaders, Olivia Dickerson, sophomore in the Stevenson MADE program, gained a new understanding of the value of interactive learning:

Alexis Vario, junior, teaches Chika Nwoke, freshman, to use power tools. (Mike Rohe)

“Virtual learning felt a lot more disengaged, unlike in-person learning where you’re actually excited to learn and teach. New members didn’t seem to be grasping the concepts as well as they are now that we are back to in-person training.”

Meanwhile, other sub-teams found online resources that improved virtual training. Programming sub-team leaders utilized an interactive development environment, a comprehensive software which allowed new members to learn fundamental skills without the hassle of installing several other necessary programs. The Design sub-team did not have any new members, but as the season progressed, several returning members realized they needed to quickly learn the basics of computer-aided 3D design (CAD) for the new robotics challenges. Cam Ly, junior at UAIS and Crevolution’s Design lead, helped several groups of team members develop their CAD skills with the OnShape software. While this tool is not as extensive or polished as what the team usually uses, it has the capability to sync work with a group in real-time, a necessary feature when meeting virtually.

Looking towards the public relations side of Crevolution, leaders developed a unique way to test their members’ skills. In their joint entrepreneurship project, students on the Marketing, Website Development, Media, Business and Outreach sub-teams collaborated to develop all aspects of their fake company, Phrog. According to UAIS sophomore Katelyn Brodsky, “Our made-up company would sell mood ring earrings to raise money to protect the environments of endangered frog species.”

Work in progress company logo designed by Arianne Dacayo

The Website Development and Media students explored how real businesses advertise online, while the others developed specific aspects of Phrog. On the Business and Outreach side, students applied their knowledge from creating Crevolution’s business plan to make an investor proposal plan for their fake company. They also researched the real-world implications of how a business like this could actually help protect the habitats of frogs and other species. Students on Marketing rounded off the project by developing advertisement materials for the company if it were a real business.

Training will continue throughout the school year, but the virtual training in the fall  prepared these team members for the challenges they will face in future robotics challenges.