First Competition Coming Up March 9-10th, Bridgewater
February 21, 2019

Our first competition of the 2019 season is the New England District SE Mass Event at Bridgewater-Raynham High School which takes place on Saturday and Sunday March 9th and 10th. Free to watch. Come on down! The event should also be live streamed via Twitch TV or the Blue Alliance site. Here is a link to the Blue Alliance page listing the teams that will be participating. Typically the competition viewing is 9am – 5:30pm with a break for lunch. Exact times can shift if the event runs behind.

Putting on the Finishing Touches!
February 18, 2019

We are in the final stretch! Bag day on Tuesday Feb. 19 signals the end of build season and moves us into competition season. “Bag day” means that we will literally be packing up our competition robot in a massive plastic bag, and we cannot touch the robot again except for during a few designated hours in the week before our first tournament. (Our first tournament is the SE Mass. District Event at Raynham High School in Bridgewater.) We need to have our robot in drivable, bumpered and mechanized condition before we bag it.  

Mark installs the electrical panel.

This week we have installed the robot’s pneumatic system and have soldered and wired the electrical system with extreme precision, making sure that there are no short circuits or other small errors that would hamper our robot.

The robot as it stood midweek, after the pneumatics and electrical panel were installed.

Our software group has written code that allows our robot to pick up and move the cargo (balls) and hatches (discs) effectively, and they are solving some software issues with controlling the ball intake and the motion of the elevator. They have also written an algorithm and code for the camera system that will allow us to see where the robot is going during the “sandstorm” period at the beginning of a match, when the vision of our drive team is blocked.

Mark writes code to control the electrical board during a test phase.

Our CADing group continues to work on 3D models of our electrical components, elevator, and ball intake. They have been making small design changes to ensure that the various robot systems work correctly together—this is despite the assortment of technical problems they have been having with our CADing program.

We finished cutting the robot’s perimeter plate, which is the exterior wall of the robot where the bumpers are mounted. Our next step is to build the pool-noodle and cloth bumpers that can flip from red to blue, depending on which alliance color we’ve been assigned to for a match. These carry our team number in large letters so everyone knows that it’s the LigerBots robot they’re watching!

Sophia and Maya drill an aluminum perimeter plate.
David is assisted by mentor Jordan Schwartz to blowtorch and bend an aluminum plate for the robot perimeter.

We have also built a second robot chassis this year so we can continue to work on our designs after we bag our competition robot. We are allowed to keep 30 pounds of our 125-pound competition robot out of the bag as a “withholding allowance” for further improvement, so we have decided to retain our claw and ball intake for more work. We will mount these mechanisms on our second chassis along with any other system we might want to add to the competition robot right before a tournament.

Yonik and Jay work on the electrical panel for robot 2.
Michelle works with mechanical mentor Mark Zeren to drill a piece of 80/20 bar for the second robot.
Randy and mentor Josh Sapers construct the frame of robot two.

In the meantime, our drive team has been working on a technique to efficiently hold and utilize the robot controller. We’re repurposing an Xbox controller, and our drive team has been figuring out an efficient way to be able to press all the buttons needed while playing a match. We are on target to test our driving by the end of the weekend.

As we race toward the deadline, work on the robot continues off-site during school vacation.

The official competition season has not yet begun, but there are teams who have not only finished their robot before bag day, but are ready to compete! Some have organized unofficial pre-bag-day tournaments so that other teams can test their robot designs and get in some driving practice in a realistic game setting. Our strategy council has assembled a group of team members to start scouting practice this weekend for week 0. We will use these preseason competitions to test out the scouting sheets and scouting process we will use this year.  Our scouting alliance continues to grow, and we welcome 6731, Record Robotics! We have further “turduckened” our alliance logo to accommodate this new addition. The next step would be to train our alliance teams on scouting so that we will all have useful data and a successful season.

The scouting sheet for our new scouting alliance. The participating teams are listed by number at the top, and the logo includes pieces of all of the team logos.

As noted in previous posts, winning the Chairman’s award would advance us to the next level of competition regardless of how our robot performs. It also would announce us as one of the teams that best expresses what the FIRST organization represents. We previously won the award in 2015 at both the district and NE Championship level. Last week we submitted our essay and questions to FIRST. The other piece of the judging process involves formal and informal presentations at our competitions, so we continue to work on refining our presentation, practicing our elevator pitches and preparing materials like our team overview booklet and flyers. We have even sung and recorded a song for the Chairman’s video, which would get played on a large screen for everyone at the competition should we win.

Our new public speaking mentor, Elizabeth McVittie, trains a group of students on how to use good voice techniques and body language to enhance a conversation with judges.

We have been working on our robot reveal video and preparing for several upcoming outreach trips and events. On Feb. 23 we will be at the MIT Blueprint hackathon with an activity booth and on Feb. 26 we will be meeting with local politicians at the Southern New England Advocacy Conference (SNEAC) about STEM initiatives.

This week we welcomed ALM Works as a new Puma level sponsor! Their donation helps us make up for the loss of one of our larger sponsors earlier this year. This means that we can continue training our team members, building robots and promoting STEM in Newton.

It is really great to see just how far we have come since the start of build season.

We’re Putting Together the Robot!
February 9, 2019

This was the fifth week of our six-week build season, and that means that the LigerBots are in a time crunch. Because we have improved our design processes and our ability to manufacture complex parts over the past few years, we are able to include parts we could previously only dream of putting on our robot. But it now takes longer to get to the point of actually assembling the robot than it did a few years ago. We are busy for weeks, designing and making parts we know will work rather than attaching pieces hit-or-miss. Luckily, when we finally get to the point of assembly, the robot now comes together quickly. This week we started putting together all of the robot parts we have been manufacturing during the past month.

Berk bends plates that will define the robot perimeter, which will carry our bumpers
Mitchell and Ethan make plates for electrical board mount

We were lucky to have an early release day from school last Wednesday, which allowed us to put in extra time on the robot. Our robot now has an elevator, a “cargo” ball intake, and a claw that will place game pieces, plus wheels, motors, and pneumatics. This week we cut lots of metal plates for our elevator and for various mounts, which enabled us to attach the electrical board, battery, pistons, camera, and rope for the elevator.

Misha and Vivek work with co-head coach Igor Tepermeister to figure out where to mount the motor controllers
Misha, Coach Igor and Brian assemble the elevator
Igor and Misha attach the claw

There were obstacles to overcome this week, as there always are during the robot build. We had trouble with the ball bouncing out of the robot before the claw could grab it so we added a bar to trap it in the claw. And, we had to replace and reposition the piston that kicks the ball out of the claw.

Figuring out we need a bar to trap the ball–the “cargo” ball bounces right out!
Brian and Asa install the new metal bar above the bumper
Asa, Eddy, Misha, Yanjun, Aiden and Brian run a successful test of our robot acquiring the “cargo” ball after we add the metal bar

What we don’t have yet are wired electronics and a mounted camera to acquire images for our robot vision system. Next week we hope to have this camera and software in place so that our driver can “see” where the robot is and control it during the “sandstorm” period of this year’s competitions, when an opaque curtain is lowered between the drivers and the playing field for fifteen seconds. The vision system will also allow our robot to automatically align to its targets during all phases of competition.  

Electrical mentor Carly Buchanan, Yonik, Mark and co-head coach John Fitzpatrick layout out the electrical board

Until we wire the electrical board we have no computer control, and we have to move all the mechanisms around with our hands. We hope have to do a full integration test next week to see if everything will work together. Our newly-announced drive team is eager for us to finish so that they can start driving practice!

Thanks to generous funding from our donors and sponsors, we are continuing our practice of building two copies of our robot so we can tweak and improve the second one after the first one is sealed into its giant plastic bag at the end of the official build season. Since we’re allowed to keep 30 lbs of our 120 lb robot “out of the bag” and continue working on it until competition we have decided to make the intake and the claw mechanisms part of our “withholding allowance.” We will continue improving them right up until our first competition, the SE MA District Event at Raynham High School in Bridgewater, MA on March 9 and 10. We’ll have a few sanctioned hours before the competition to transfer our improved parts onto our competition robot.

Robots 1 and 2. Robot 2 currently has just a chassis and an elevator

The LigerBots strategy council has finished its analysis of the offensive power rating (OPR) of all of the New England District FRC teams. We also have created a scouting alliance with three other FRC teams to collaborate on collecting data about other teams and their robots’ performance during this year’s competitions. We use these data to improve our robot drive team’s game strategy, and to optimize our picks of alliance partners when we make it to tournament playoffs as an alliance captain.

Logo combining team identities of four teams for our scouting alliance with team 157 Aztechs, 246 Overclocked, and rookie team 7822 General Robotics

Our awards group has turned in our Chairman’s Award submission, and is now developing the oral presentation the group will give to judges at our competitions. We do extensive preparation for this presentation because winning the Chairman’s award (given to the team that best exemplifies the values of FIRST Robotics,)  would automatically move us to the next level of competition no matter how our robot performs.

Team execs Samy, AJ and Maggie meet with public speaking mentor Elizabeth McVittie to organize team training in speaking to judges

We have resumed training the entire team on talking to awards judges, other teams and potential sponsors thanks to the help of Elizabeth McVittie, a new mentor who’s an expert in finance and public speaking.

The design of our robot repair-pit publicity banners is finished and we are working on the 50-page booklet about our team that we use at competitions and outreach events all year. One-hundred-fifty blank tee shirts have been sent off to the graphics department at Newton North High School to be screen printed with this year’s team and sponsor logos.

Nicole and Frank work with photography mentor Vicki McKenna to get photographs for a redesign of our origami flyer so it can be included in our annual team booklet
Keiji and Sebastian sort out the newly-arrived blank tee shirts

We’ve sure come a long way since kickoff. The entire workshop is in high gear in the runup to the end of build season, and we are looking forward to putting our robot, and ourselves, to the test at our first event.

Full Steam Ahead in Week 4!
February 2, 2019

The LigerBots just finished week four of build season, and our project planning board is full of sticky notes, each one for an individual task in the works. At the end of every team meeting we gather in the shop to report on what we have accomplished that day and proudly spear the note for each finished task on a spike at the back of the task board.

Team leaders gather in the shop at the end of a meeting to report on their progress.

We meet six days a week during build season, and we need every hour of meeting time to finish our robot and our competition-season marketing. Thanks to increased sponsorship of our team during the past few years we have been able to make two identical robots each year. This allows us to continue work on our design, using our second robot for testing, even after the six week build season is over and we must put our competition robot into storage until our first tournament.

Keiji files a piece of 80/20 metal bar for a chassis cross-piece.
Gil cuts a piece of polycarbonate to make new robot arms.

This year we are making two chassis and two game-piece elevators, but only one set of arms to place the game pieces into the goals, and one intake for the “cargo” ball. The intake will roll the ball in from the floor into the center of the robot. Arms on an elevator will pick up the ball from inside the robot once it is rolled in, or get a “hatch” disk from the loading station. The arm will place the ball or hatch panel into the field element goals. Since we are allowed to keep working on 30 lbs of our robot after the end of the official build season, we will be able to continue iterating designs for the arms and intake until we are satisfied with their performance.

Mark works with Coach Fitz to create software that will control the robot’s game piece elevator.
Ethan, coach Igor, Ali, Vivek and mentor Mark work on the “cargo” ball intake mechanism.

Putting our robot’s electronics on a lightweight, perforated polycarbonate board that has lots of holes for zip ties has given us flexibility in where we place our components.

Coach Fitz talks to Yonik, Mark and Daniel about adding wiring to the perforated electrical board.

We are creating a robot vision system consisting of cameras and software that will allow the robot to “see” the reflective tape on the field elements and align the robot to the goals.

Gil programs the “roadkill” test robot to improve the robot’s ability to “see” the reflective tape on the mockup goal.

This week we finalized our sponsorship list for competition season and started adding sponsor logos and names to all of our competition and outreach materials. The support of our valued sponsors and donors means that we will have the funds to continue building robots and promoting STEM in Newton. But, fundraising at the LigerBots never stops, so we will continue to reach out to companies in our community for support.

We have finished our Chairman’s award submission essay and are working on the list of questions we must answer for the submission. Team members sang and recorded the song they wrote for our Chairman’s award video. Now we can turn our attention to preparing the oral presentation that we will give to FIRST judges during our competitions.

Andrew, AJ, Jadon, Carolyn, and Amanda work on the 2019 Chairman’s award presentation with mentor Chuck.

We are in the midst of creating the team booklet that includes the essay and lots of other information about the LigerBots. Fall training in graphics, writing, and public speaking has ensured that our students are able to work quickly on the various aspects of the Chairman’s award submission now that it’s crunch time.

Clara works on the Chairman’s award submission booklet, using Adobe InDesign.

After a recent team dinner we all gathered for a team photo in the Newton South High School cafeteria.

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Our Robot Begins to Take Shape in Week 3
January 26, 2019

The third week of the LigerBots build season has everyone excited because we can see our robot beginning to take shape! Team members are hard at work all around the workshop, trying to beat the time crunch. With half of build season already over, our work has to accelerate for us to finish the robot on time!

We have started making the robot chassis, which will be an H-drive. Our precision machining will help to make the frame just right!

Brad and Sophia cut metal bars for our chassis

Many parts are being created for the robot’s elevator mechanism that will lift the ball (“cargo”) and disk (“hatch”) game pieces.

Brian works with mentor Doug Johnston to cut plates for our elevator mechanism.

We also made a second, more primitive, elevator that will allow our programmers to test automatic alignment of the elevator to the field element goals.

Maya attaches motors to the test elevator.

Our students dedicated to robot vision wrote code that will make the robot automatically align to acquire the playing pieces from the feeder station.

David tries out his robot vision code on the intake mechanism.

A group of students, mentors, and alumni tested the game piece intake and discussed how it can be improved.

Mentor Mark Zeren, along with Yanjun, Tommy, and co-head coach Igor Tepermeister discuss the game-piece intake
Our intake holds a “hatch” game piece securely.

We finished our mockup game-piece loading station, which will allow us to test the acquisition of game pieces by our robot. We have almost finished our mockup of the rocket ship field element, which will allow us to test placement of game pieces from our robot into the goals.

Our mock-up “cargo” and “hatch” feeder station is ready to go.
Randy, mentor Jay Schwartz and Jiaming work on our “rocket” field element mockup.

Our electrical group is hard at work soldering wires from the new NEO motors so that they can be used on the robot. We used duct tape and zip ties to make the assembly as neat as possible so that when we need to put it on the robot, we know what connects to what. We are also wiring an electrical test board. Solving electrical problems now will enable rapid wiring of the actual robot once we are ready to do so.

Mark, CTO Samy, and mentor Carly Buchanan construct wiring for the electrical test board

This week our Chairman’s award group revised our essay. We are almost done writing answers to the executive summary questions, and are starting to lay out a plan for their oral presentation.

The graphics group has just finished its preliminary design of our “Destination: Deep Space” pit banners and will now turn our attention to the Chairman’s award submission booklet, which contains our essay as well as information about every aspect of our team.

Carolyn, AJ and Andrew discuss the Chairman’s award submission essay with mentor Chuck Tanowitz.

The LigerBots strategy council calculated the LigerBots standing in FRC by various criteria this week, corresponded with Israeli FRC team Glue Gun and Glitter (whom we are mentoring on game strategy and scouting,) and worked on our speaking skills to communicate better with FRC judges.

We had our weekly build-season team dinner and Saturday lunch, thanks to our dedicated parents.

We had a lovely lunch on Saturday after building our robot all morning.

Only three more weeks to go in our build season!