LigerBots Demo Robot for Cub Scouts, Prepare to Run FLL Tournament
November 11, 2018

Last week several LigerBots met with Cub Scout pack 210 during their meeting at the Carroll Center for the Blind. We explained the core principles of FIRST as well as the wide variety of skills LigerBots team members develop. We encouraged the scouts to join FIRST LEGO League (FLL) teams, which are available for kids in grades four to eight. All the scouts had a great time interacting with the robot and were eager to ask questions, ranging from what it is like to compete in a competition to how we deal with battery acid spills. At the end of the meeting we gave all of the scouts the opportunity to drive our robot that competed in the 2016 FIRST World Championship and demonstrated how it could throw a ball with almost unparalleled accuracy. We hope to see all the scouts at our upcoming events!

Matthew explains the 2016 robot to a pack of Cub Scouts
Aiden helps Cub Scouts drive our robot

The LigerBots recently had our annual, team-wide “elevator pitch” training. We feel that learning how to make an elevator pitch is one of the three most important skills that LigerBots students learn from the team. (The other two are budgeting and project planning!) Group leaders that received their own pitch training at the previous meeting helped other LigerBots brainstorm, write, and practice with partners their own, personal 30-second explanations of the team. At the end of the meeting we gathered again, and LigerBots from each group presented their pitches to the entire team. We expect that this skill will be useful to our team members during interactions with many different kinds of people, including FIRST Robotics judges, outreach event visitors, potential team sponsors, college and job interviewers, and friends and family members who are not familiar with the FIRST Robotics program!

Group leaders receive their elevator speech training from Gregg Mastoras, managing director at Harvard Business School Executive Education
Ali circles brainstormed phrases he thinks are useful in constructing his elevator pitch
Ellie and Amanda start their elevator pitch partner practice with a handshake

Our other important training session last week was in shop safety, led by our woodworking mentor, Jay. We also continued team training in electrical soldering, and had tutorials in precision manufacturing, learning how to cut and machine parts on large machines such as mills and bandsaws. We continued to work on our “roadkill,” a stripped-down robot that includes the bare minimum of mechanical and electrical parts that a programmer needs to test out code. We are approaching our goal of making a roadkill robot with multiple interchangeable drive trains. Our 2016 robot now has an orange bumper and blue bumper (our team colors) and we are completing a white paper on the bumper project.

Woodworking mentor Jay teaches the LigerBots how to safely use a drill press
Randy and mentor Rachel work on the new bumpers for the 2016 robot
Coach Fitz helps a new LigerBot Jennifer learn how to solder

In preparation for our upcoming FLL competitions, LigerBots spent an entire Saturday assembling the FLL competition fields, with challenge elements made from many different kinds of game-specific LEGO pieces. Students built for nine hours to complete 11 fields containing 20 LEGO elements each (and many, many other parts!) as well as 15 LEGO trophies to be used in the FLL Eastern MA State Championship we will host in December. Kit building is always great fun, and with the addition of the trophies this year was even better. On Saturday, Nov. 17 we will use all of these fields at the Newton Qualifier FLL tournament at Newton North High School from 9-3. There will be a hands-on maker fair to accompany the competition. Bring your families and come watch!

Connor constructs a “lander release” FLL field element that drops a landing vehicle from its claw when a bar is pushed by an FLL robot. The robot must catch the fragile lander without breaking it to score points in the game
LigerBots assemble FLL fields
Team mentors help with the FLL field assembly

For more photos of all of these events, visit our Flickr page.

Nov 17th FIRST LEGO League Qualifier: Free and Open to the Public
November 10, 2018

The LigerBots are hosting the first of two FIRST LEGO League (FLL) robotics competition for elementary and middle schoolers. On Saturday November 17th, about 25 teams of Massachusetts students in grades 4-8 will compete in the Newton Qualifier. Also open to the public will be displays of student solutions to real-world problems related to the outer space theme for this year’s game, which is called “Into Orbit.”

Alongside the competition, the LigerBots will hold a maker fair with hands-on activities for kids in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and math. FREE and open to the public.

LigerBots Do STEM Outreach at Newton Free Library “Think Big!” Event
November 2, 2018

Last weekend the LigerBots talked to students about the team, scooped ice cream for visitors, and asked and answered questions about STEM careers at the “Think Big!” event at the Newton Free Library. In an informal setting in the library’s concert hall, young visitors asked adults with careers in STEM, including our coaches Noa Rensing and Jordan Schwartz, about their successes, challenges, and achievements.

The LigerBots at Think Big!
LigerBots students and mentors join other STEM professionals in answering questions about their careers from young attendees

Noam Shoresh, a computational biologist from the Broad Institute at MIT spoke to more than thirty LigerBots in a packed lecture room at Newton North High School on Monday, giving us some introductory approaches to analyzing the large amount of data we gather on other FRC teams before and during competitions. The strategy council hopes to use this data analysis to predict how other teams will do in future competitions and to create better strategy on the fly when we play with and against these teams.

Noam Shoresh makes a point

Our team’s computer science training for new recruits has begun with a “peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich robot” exercise. Students were tasked with giving instructions for making a pb&j sandwich to a coach or student playing the part of the robot. The “robot” had to do exactly what it was told to do, with no interpretation. It was great fun to watch as the “robot” took the students’ instructions literally–bread was smushed, peanut butter spilled and jelly smeared. This activity introduced students to the idea that computers do what they are told and nothing more, even if it is wrong, and that that computers can’t read between the lines and can’t figure out what was meant. We know our students will take this lesson to heart as they start coding our 2019 robot!

Matthew plays the part of the robot in our peanut-butter-and-jelly robot training exercise for new coders

Gregg Mastoras, managing director at Harvard Business School Executive Education, trained student group leaders this week in preparing a 30-second speech that summarizes the LigerBots. Next week, our group leaders will train the rest of the team in making their own elevator pitches, with Gregg’s help. Elevator pitch training will familiarize our students with talking about the robot, the team, and FIRST, making them better prepared to answer questions from judges, other teams, sponsors, and the public at competitions, outreach, and fundraising events.

Group leaders get their own training in creating an elevator pitch about the LigerBots in preparation for teaching the rest of the team

Come to Elevator Speech Training Nov. 5
October 27, 2018

On Thursday, Nov. 5 the entire team will have training in how to construct a personal, 30-second speech describing the LigerBots and why you are on the team. Please come to this meeting! You will find that you use these skills all year as you meet awards judges at competitions and members of the public at outreach events who don’t know much about FIRST. It’s also a useful skill to have when you’re answering question on your feet at college and job interviews.

LigerBots Win Bay State Brawl!

It’s been a winning week for the LigerBots!

Ethan and Gil confer with members of event co-host team the Robonauts

Seventeen LigerBots trekked out bright and early last Saturday to Whitinsville, MA for the Bay State Brawl, our second off-season competition of the fall. This was another chance for our rookies to drive the robot, and they did great! We went into the playoffs in fifth place, and were the first pick of first-alliance captain team 3555, Aluminati. Our other partner was team 5494, Bizarbots. Our alliance ultimately won the competition!

LigerBots go through the handshake line before the final of the Bay State Brawl

These offseason competitions have been an opportunity for our new team members to get a taste of the competition environment: the field, the pit, the time pressure and the need for game strategy. The competitions also have provided first-hand experience with the FIRST values of “gracious professionalism” and “coopertition.” They allow our entire team to become better prepared for the rigorous build and competition season ahead.

New LigerBots Randy and Lily work on the 2018 robot at the Bay State Brawl

In addition to the weekend competition, we’ve continued to run our newly-expanded preseason training. We have an especially busy training schedule this year since we have the largest rookie class in our team’s history. And, with this year’s addition of a strategy council, a graphic design team, student photographers and a writing staff, our training has become even more well-rounded, diverse and dynamic.

Team rookie Frank and mentor Dan cut an electrical board so that it will fit on our rebuilt practice robot

Our graphic design team has been working on flyers and signs that explain the principles behind STEM activities we often take to outreach events: brushbots, electrically conductive and insulating doughs, paper airplane construction and 3D printing. A number of our team members are learning to research, write, edit, create photographic illustrations, and graphically design an entire document themselves in Adobe Creative Suite.

Clara works on an informational flyer about the LigerBots paper airplane STEM activity for children

Our new photography mentor and several students whose main interest at LigerBots is to document the team have kept us well supplied with pictures of our many activities. Please visit our Flickr page to see their work on display!

Dorothea works with photography mentor Vicki to capture images for her informational flyer on LigerBots brushbot STEM activity for children

Our fundraising group continues to apply for grants from new sponsors and to contact our valued current sponsors for renewal, and we have started work on the maker fair we hold during the FLL Newton Qualifier every year. (This year, on November 17 at Newton North High School.)

The LigerBots have many technical training projects in full swing now. We have two fully-functioning FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) robots, outfitted with two different drive trains (tank and x-drive) and programmed with student-written software. We might add an arm to one of them, and are almost ready to take the other one apart and let a new group of students build it again.

Amanda works on programming an FTC robot

Our students are exploring different combinations of wheel size, number of motors and gear ratios to achieve either power or speed, so that we’ll be ready no matter what the 2019 game requires.

The results of a lively discussion about wheel, motor and gearbox choices

We also started researching and sketching turret designs that might be added to 2016 robot we use for outreach. A group of students is learning to sew by creating new bumper covers for the 2016 robot in team colors of orange and blue. Our electrical group continues to learn crimping and soldering and will likely rewire last year’s robot as a learning exercise.

Mentor Carly works with new LigerBots to teach them crimping and soldering

We are also testing different ways to use our manual mill to manufacture metal parts with tight tolerances, and increasing our team members’ manufacturing skills.

Team veteran Gideon works with rookie Frank to mill a metal part

In our H-Drive project our rookies are learning basics of chassis design, and in programing they are learning about the standard code library used by FRC teams. We recently ran three introductory courses in computer aided design (CAD) and computer aided manufacturing (CAM). Now, students are continuing to learn them on their own from on-line tutorials so that they will be ready to CAD and CAM the robot quickly during build season.

Software mentor Charles works with new and veteran LigerBots on basic programming skills

And, more training sessions are planned during the coming weeks: elevator speech building and peanut butter and jelly robot. We hope to be more ready than we ever have been for the fast approaching build season!