Robot Makers Rule

We are excited to have Molly Dugan, a high school student and president of team 1218, for a short time working at Vulcan Spring to complete her senior project.  As sponsors of the FIRST Robotics, we are thrilled to have the chance to work with her and asked her to give us her unique perspective on the FIRST Robotics Competition…

Written by Molly Dugan:

If you’ve been to a FIRST Robotics Competition, you can probably attest to the fact that there’s nothing else like it. Over 3,000 teams composed of High School students throughout the World build robots to compete against each other. FIRST, which stands for ‘For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology’, was founded in 1992 by Dean Kamen with the goal of exciting and inspiring young people to become leaders in science, technology, engineering, and math fields.

My name is Molly Dugan and I’m President of FIRST Team 1218, Vulcan Robotics. When I tell people that I’m on a High School robotics team, the first thing they’ll usually ask is, “is it like battle bots?” Sorry to let you down, but no, we don’t build robots that have chainsaws and torches. Instead, we build robots that compete in a new game every year, which can vary from basketball, to ultimate frisbee, or even playing tic-tac-toe with pool tubes. Two alliances, who are composed of robots from three different teams, face off in a match that’s broken up into an autonomous period of 10 seconds, where the robot must be preprogrammed to perform a task, and then a tele-op period of 2 minutes and 30 seconds, where the robot is driver operated. The alliances are randomly generated, so your partner one match could be your opponent the next.

The season starts out the first weekend of January and we only have six weeks to design, prototype, build, and program a robot to successfully tackle the challenges of the game. This year, we played Aerial Assist; we had to pass a yoga ball to our partners, throw it over a 6 foot truss, and finally shoot it into a goal about 7 feet off of the ground. When you weren’t in possession of the ball, you were generally playing defense. The total length perimeter of the robot can’t exceed 112 inches and the height of the robot is limited to 60 inches.

Unsurprisingly, the build season is a whirlwind of chaos. You must work as a team to figure out the strategy you wish to pursue, create a robot design that will fulfill your strategy, prototype your design, finalize your prototypes, build your finalized robot design, and then program your robot to do what you need it to accomplish. You gain real World engineering skills, including learning CAD software, using machinery, programming in LabView, and creating a product that you designed. You also get the added bonus of learning skills that will make you a better person, such as teamwork, creativity, communication, self-confidence, and leadership. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll know what it feels like to have a gold medal hanging off of your neck as well.

Companies and Universities have seen these affects FIRST has on creating the next generation of STEM leaders, and they’ve embraced it. That’s why over $19,000,000 is offered in scholarship money to FIRST students, and why Vulcan Spring has been a sponsor of my team since 2007, and now a major sponsor of FIRST. With the help of Vulcan and their President, Scott Rankin, a state of the art robotics lab was created for 1218 so we could expand our possibilities. During the kickoff in January, every team is provided a kit of parts to help get them started; Vulcan provided each kit of parts with a spring kit, including 2 constant force springs, along with a voucher to receive an additional six springs. In addition, Vulcan sponsored a practice field at Championships.

Without the help of Vulcan, our team wouldn’t have been able to place 7th in the World this past year, and I wouldn’t be the person I am today, headed off to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on a FIRST scholarship. So with this adventure coming to a close, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Vulcan Spring and Scott Rankin for providing me with a World of opportunities I never could’ve foreseen. Vulcan Spring has changed my life, and as their support for FIRST increases, they will continue to change the lives of the next STEM leaders throughout the World.

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