Our Robot Build is Underway!
January 19, 2019

The LigerBots workshop is bustling with activity as robot design and construction, fundraising, game strategy, awards preparation, and graphic design ramp up during our second week of build season.

Part of the game this year involves picking up large bouncy ball off of the ground, and the mechanical group has been testing two main ideas for a ball intake that came out of our three-day design process. One was a “through-bumper” intake and the other was an “over-the bumper” intake. The bumpers are cloth-covered pool noodles attached to the robot’s perimeter. Creating a through-bumper intake requires having a section of the robot without bumpers and being able to move the ball sideways into our intake. This didn’t go well in testing, so the team will continue to prototype other designs that intake the ball over the bumper. For example, this week one of our first-year members built a prototype for a “grabber” to pick up the ball.

Jennifer and Ethan work with co-head coach Igor Tepermeister and mechanical mentor Josh Sapers to test a ball intake mechanism.

The manufacturing group has been upping our precision manufacturing skills, especially by improving our mill setup so that we can do easily repeatable, accurate holes. We are continuing to train new team members on the use of our power equipment. Once the robot design has finished, the manufacturing group will begin to cut and assemble the robot chassis.

Brad works with manufacturing build leader Sophia to adjust our mill for drilling precise holes in elevator brackets.

We have made good progress on the construction of robot game field elements to use for testing our robot. Right now we are working on a mockup of the loading station, from which we pick up disk and ball game pieces.

Jiaming works with field elements mentor Jay Schwartz to start building the game-piece loading station field element mockup.

This week we added pneumatics for the “roadkill,” an extra robot chassis that we can add mechanisms to and use for testing purposes. We have also been making heavy use of our project-management sticky-note board. This efficient system means that always we always know what we have to do next!

Mark works with electrical mentor Carly Buchanan to wire the “roadkill” robot for mechanism testing.
Brian and Eddy work with mechanical mentor Mark Zeren to create a test platform for testing ball holding arms.

Our programming group has written some new code to help drive our 2019 robot. New team members have learned coding techniques and the group has updated the firmware to be used by our robot. Once the robot’s main parts are finished, in a couple of weeks, the programming group will move on to coding the actual actions that the robot will do during the competition. We continue to CAD our robot design to make sure all of our desired mechanisms will fit together properly when we manufacture them.

Asa and Keiji concentrate on their CAD design.

After mulling competing designs, the strategy council has chosen a setup for the paper charts we use for scouting, on which we record the actions of all of the robots that play in each of our competitions. We will be scouting cooperatively this year with team 157 Aztechs, and team 246 Overclocked, so that fewer of our team members need to do scouting at one time, and to help the Aztechs and Overclocked with their scouting strategies. The council has also finished ranking by offensive power rating (OPR) all of the teams we have played with or against in 2017 and 2018. We hope that this ranking will help inform our picks for alliance partners in any playoffs we succeed in reaching. More data are still to be crunched!

Our fundraising group has been writing letters and emails to ask for new corporate team sponsorships. Fundraising is an especially urgent task for us during this expensive part of our season because we have lost several of our larger corporate sponsors in the past year. We also have been making instagram posts. (Check out our Instagram account here: https://www.instagram.com/ligerbots_frc2877/?hl=en).

The awards group has been drafting and editing an essay to submit for the FIRST Robotics Chairman’s award, the most prestigious award that we could win at one of our competitions, given to a team that best exemplifies the principles of the FIRST organization. The awards group is also preparing an oral presentation to give to awards judges, and creating a video, with music, to accompany it.

The graphics group is designing banners that will decorate the front of the metal-framed robot repair “pit” that we use at competitions. These banners will contain images that tie in with this year’s outer-space robot game theme, and will, as always, show off our team sponsor logos. Once that is done this group will start work on the informational booklet about the LigerBots that we produce every year. The booklet accompanies our awards submissions, and is also used year-round as a resource at our outreach events.

Frank researches outer-space images to use on our competition pit banners

There is still a lot of work left to do during the rest of build season, but it’s nice to see all the progress we have already made.

Build Season Has Begun!
January 13, 2019
The LigerBots at the FIRST Robotics kickoff in Manchester, NH.

Blast off! The robot build season has begun! On January fifth, twenty-seven LigerBots students and ten mentors made our annual pilgrimage to Manchester, NH, the home of FIRST founder Dean Kamen, to attend the FIRST Robotics 2019 Destination: Deep Space robot game challenge reveal and kickoff. We had so many LigerBots that we occupied eight cars and nearly a quarter of the bleachers at the Southern New Hampshire University.

The view from the bleachers at kickoff.

In addition to watching the outer-spaced themed game reveal video, we listened to speeches by Dean Kamen, Woodie Flowers, and New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu, and got access to the encrypted game manual so that we could learn all of the rules. Our students were so eager to know the details that many of them read and discussed the entire, 125-page manual in their carpools on the way back to Newton. Everyone wanted to be ready for intense discussions in their three-day design groups the next day.

Our first view of the 2019 playing field, at kickoff. To score points in the 2019 game, hatch panel disks must be loaded onto the front of the holes on the “rocket ship” and “cargo ship” to prevent “cargo” from falling out, and playground ball “cargo” must be loaded into various holes in the ships.

The LigerBots three-day design process is our way of including every team member, no matter what their usual area of concentration on the team, in the design of our robot. By spreading our rookies and veterans out among the groups we give our newer and quieter members an opportunity to demonstrate, lead, and speak. All team members, including those who usually work on non-technical tasks, meet for two days in groups of nine or ten team members and a mentor, to brainstorm game strategy and general mechanical approaches to accomplishing tasks in the robot game. On the third day a panel of representatives from each group presents the groups’ recommendations for game strategy and robot mechanisms.

A three-day design group led by field elements mentor Jay Schwartz (at left) works with a mockup playing field to discuss game strategy.

Because our team is so big this year we had nine groups, all meeting at different locations during the two days after the game kickoff. Some groups sketched strategy decisions and preliminary designs on a whiteboard, some used a mockup of the playing field to push around game elements. But, every approach led to lively tactical debates about how to score the most points and about the best way to maneuver this year’s game pieces: a playground ball that represents spaceship cargo, and a flat disk that represents a rocket ship hatch panel.

A three-day design group led by 2016 CTO Max Tepermeister (at right)watches video of other teams’ solutions to mechanical challenges.

The leaders of our various build groups (who specialize in various mechanical, electrical and programming features of the robot) met on the fourth day to discuss the groups’ proposals and come up with a robot design that would accomplish the consensus game strategy. Our initial ambitions are to place the “cargo” and “hatch panel” into both the low and high goals on the “rocket” field element, and to climb onto the second level of the “habitat” home-base platform. We may add more skills to our robot if we find we have time to do so during our six-week build season.

Our panel of three-day design group reps votes on a proposal made by CTO Samy (at right).
Mentor Bruce McVittie helps build leaders reconcile various proposals for robot mechanisms.

Our students are now creating our mechanisms with computer aided design (CAD), building field elements to allow us to test our mechanisms, and are experimenting with the game pieces on various surfaces to see how they can best be manipulated. We have begun tracking our processes using the Trello and flame chart project management tools we introduced last season.

Project management mentor Dan Lavoie demonstrates the sticky-note task board to the team.
Students start constructing the “rocket” field element.

Our weekly team dinners have begun, and we are happy to have those brief moments on Friday to eat, relax, and talk about everything we are accomplishing.

Co-head coach Noa Rensing makes announcements after our weekly team dinner.

The marketing side of our team has also gone into high gear now that we know the robot game. The awards submission group has started writing our Chairman’s Award essay and is devising questionnaires about LigerBots activities to send out to our team members. The awards group has to finish their submission in early February, even before our robot is finished.

Team members are using the elevator pitch skills they learned earlier this fall to pursue the corporate sponsorships and individual donations that allow the team to fund our robot build and outreach activities.

The graphics group has turned from their fall training in designing outreach STEM activity flyers to work on our robot repair-pit banners that show off the game theme and our team sponsors. Work has also begun on the booklet we produce annually that describes and illustrates everything we do at the LigerBots.

We are all so glad to have had the fall to learn new skills. All of them are getting put to good use now that we are in the most exciting and demanding part of our year.

Saturday Jan. 5th is FIRST Competition Kickoff – Watch on TwitchTV
January 5, 2019

Many team members are headed to Manchester, NH to participate live in the game kickoff. You can watch the show and see the videos from anywhere. The TwitchTV Broadcast begins at 10:30 am ET (preshow at 10:00 am) and can be found here. (Usually it is posted to watch later also). This page on the FIRST website has other links to get the season started. Once the game has been “revealed,” short videos about the game and different components should be available (often findable on YouTube) and the game manual will be “unlocked.” In addition, you can begin to access interpretations of the game as FIRST answers questions and groups like “Robot in 3 Days” try their hand at the rules. Many discussions on Chief Delphi will begin. The LigerBots kick off the season – after the game reveal – with our 3 Day Design Group process.

LigerBots Ready for Build Season
December 24, 2018

The LigerBots spent the last meetings before our holiday break swabbing the decks and battening down the hatches for the impending build season. Some of our recent team alumni who recently arrived home for their college winter breaks dropped by our meetings last week to help out.

Gideon and Samy help new LigerBots Caleb and Mitchell reprogram the team’s “road kill” practice robot

After unpacking our supplies from the FIRST LEGO League Eastern MA Championship last week we cleaned out our storage spaces at Newton South High School. We filed several thousand dollars worth of raw metal and plastic materials we have recently ordered for building our 2019 robots.

2016-17 CTO Max helps Keiji visualize how the CREO CAD software extrudes 2D shapes into 3D

Team members programmed our “road kill” practice robot with new code and libraries from FIRST and learned how to cut precise and repeatable holes with a new cutting tool on our mill. New LigerBots received a tutorial on reading FIRST game manuals so that they can quickly decipher the rules for the new game at kickoff on January 5, and a CAD tutorial that will help them quickly draft parts for our 2019 robot.

Electrical mentor Carly teaches LigerBots rookies how to read the FIRST game manuals

Our graphics group reviewed the series design they created for our STEM outreach activity flyers so that they can quickly create more flyers. After kickoff the group will launch right into the 2019 seasonal graphics such as our competition pit banners, robot flyers and team information booklet.

Graphics mentor Diane goes over the team’s recently designed STEM activity series flyer design with Frank and Eddy

Broad Institute computational biologist Noam Shoresh came for a second visit to mentor the strategy council on their data analysis project. Students gathered data from every team we have played with or against during 2017 and 2018. We intend to use Python software to rank all of the teams by common characteristics such as offensive power rating, which is a measure of how many points on average a team contributes to the matches they play in. This will help us improve our strategy during matches and inform our picks for alliance partners during playoffs.

Noam Shoresh thinks about the code on the white board during his discussion with the strategy council about using Python software to rank FRC teams

A large group of LigerBots is expected to make the trip to Bedford, NH on January 5 for the 2019 Destination: Deep Space FIRST Robotics game kickoff, and after that we will have six weeks in which to build and program our robot.

LigerBots Host FLL E. MA Championship
December 19, 2018

On Saturday, Dec. 15 the LigerBots hosted the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Eastern Massachusetts Championship.  In addition to competing in LEGO robot matches, 48 FLL teams from eastern Massachusetts presented their projects on this year’s outer-space theme,“Into Orbit.” The event also featured 10 FLL Jr. teams who presented their projects on this year’s FLL Jr. outer-space based theme, “Mission Moon.” More than 1100 people attended, including teams and members of the public.

Astronettes react to their robot’s progress
Purple Gearticks set up for a match
The arena
Red Gear Ticks compete
Rocket Royalty watch their robot perform its tasks
Galaxy Girls change robot parts during a match
Burlington Space Potatoes set up for a match
Zero Gravity sets up for a match
Newton’s Day Dragons react to their robot’s success
Racing Rockets FLL Jr. team goes through the awards handshake line
Robotic Tacos FLL Jr. team with their Mission Moon project

Accompanying the tournament was a maker fair featuring hands on activities from the Brandeis Maker Lab, Code Ninjas,  Newton Free Library, Einstein’s Workshop, Empow Studios, Gamewright, Hatch Makerspace, Johnson String Instrument, Kevin Osborn, Maker, Massachusetts National Guard and Students for a Greener World. People dressed in Star Wars storm trooper costumes circulated and posed for photographs.

LigerBot Ben joins staff from the Brandeis Makerspace explaining 3D printing to a visitor
Visitors drive a Massachusetts National Guard robot
Visitors try programming a robot at the table of LigerBots sponsor Empow Studios
A Storm Trooper rides the electricity-generating bike at the Newton Free Library exhibit

The maker fair was attended by 70 Newton Girl Scouts and served as their 2018 STEAM Workshop. The scouts earned their STEAM patch by participating in Ligerbots-sponsored activities, as well as those of other makers.

Girl Scouts do the Ozbot slot car challenge at the Code Ninjas table
Girl Scouts learn how a train follows a black track the Hatch Makerspace table
A staff member from LigerBots sponsor Gamewright teaches games to Girl Scouts at the maker fair
Kevin Osborn, maker, explains some science to the Girl Scouts
A Girl Scout tries out a violin at the Johnson String Instrument table at the maker fair

LigerBots offered many of our own hands-on STEAM activities, including conductive doughs, 3D printing, button making, paper airplanes, origami, brush botsPB&J Robot, and binary beads. Our newly introduced slime activity proved to be extremely popular with our young visitors. 

Dorothea helps a maker fair visitor make a binary bracelet
Maggie helps some visitors make slime
FLL Jr. team members play with slime they made at the LigerBots maker fair table

Jordan helps visitors make custom buttons
Ethan explains a LigerBots 3D printer 
LigerBot Carolyn helps Girl Scouts do origami 

Two FIRST Robotics teams, 1058 PVC Pirates and 4048 Redshift, joined the LigerBots in a robot “zoo” that encouraged young visitors to touch and drive the robots. The LigerBots set up our 2018 competition pit to display our outreach materials and our team sponsors.

Members of the PVC Pirates help a visitor drive their robot
The LigerBots pit and outreach setup in the robot zoo, alongside the Redshift table

In addition to running our own STEAM activity tables at the maker fair, LigerBots filled many roles at the event, as they did at the FLL Newton Qualifier in November. Our team members, alumni  and mentors helped organize the event, did setup and breakdown, acted as referees, competition field resetters, DJs, announcers, AV specialists, food concessionaires, guides, and photographers. 

LigerBots 2017-18 CTO Cameron explains his scoring for the Red Gear Ticks’ match while current CTO Samy waits to referee the next match
The AV squad keeps the music going and the score display rolling
Jadon announces a match
AJ and Andrew discuss the match schedule
Charlotte resets for a new match

We were grateful to have staffing help from the Newton South High School Science Team and the Newton North High School Computer Programming Club, as well as from Amit, team captain of Israeli FRC team 6740 Glue Gun and Glitter, who has been a visitor to LigerBots activities throughout most of the month of December. 

LigerBots with the FLL E. MA Championship trophies. Amit from Glue Gun and Glitter is third from the left

After we returned Newton North High School to its original, spotless condition after the championship, LigerBots gathered at the home of our COO, Jordan, to have a game and movie night. 

Every year our FLL events get bigger and better. We can’t wait to do it again next fall! To see more photos from this year’s FLL championship, please visit our Flickr album devoted to the event.

The participants in the FLL E. MA Championship with the LigerBots