2020 Season Recap - The Hardest Fun Ever

2020 Season Recap - The Hardest Fun Ever

“You have to grow up and lead us and that’s going to be tough.

The rate of change is accelerating.

You must be intellectually and philosophically up to the task, so learn a lot.

You must have a 21st century education. You must understand the universe, as in the laws of nature, yourself, and humanity or society.”

Dr. Woodie Flowers 1943-2019

FIRST Robotics competitions have a few things that are universal about them. They provide you with not enough time to accomplish the task in front of you, not enough resources to create a perfect solution, too much conflict among team members to work in harmony, and they provide a game where inevitably something breaks at the worst possible time.

So why then would someone sign up to put themselves through this?

Because you don’t make diamonds without putting things under pressure.

This year the United Squadron set out with a similar goal to past seasons in running our FRC program and both FTC teams, 14717 and 15259 as well as helping out our feeder school FTC teams.

As with past years we had planned outreach, but unlike past years we had more than one alumni come back to support it starting with Beakernight, Calgary’s premiere Science and Technology celebration. At that event 7277 students and alumni got together and put on a display with last year’s robot, Untitled.Robot complete with a spectacular light show.

The events kept on coming as the outreach team had a big one in front of them. This one was with Camp Amazon, who had been talking with the team about holding an outreach event as a part of their Amazon Goes Gold campaign to eliminate childhood cancer.

At that event six 7277 team members were welcomed to the Amazon YYC1 Fulfillment Centre where they put on a STEM camp using Micro:Bits for a group of students from the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

That event was spectacular and was captured by CTV News with an evening news story.

After the camp the students were all given a tour of the facility and Amazon presented the 7277 students with a cheque for $15,000 to help support all of their initiatives this season.

We couldn’t do what we do without sponsors like them.

As the season went on, so did the team’s outreach into our community. Through a partnership with the Girl Guides of Canada the outreach team spent part of the winter putting on STEM Camps for our local chapter walking them through how to program Micro:Bits and Lego Mindstorms.

On top of that we were fortunate to be invited to Grant MacEwan School, one of our local elementary schools, where the students again brought their Micro:Bits and ran every grade 5 and 6 student in the school through their now very comfortable STEM Camp.

One of the unique parts of Nelson Mandela High School is it’s diversity. On some surveys we see up to 75% of our students speaking a non-English language as their primary language at home, and this shows. Additionally, we have made a push to encourage more girls to pursue STEM fields as a part of the team and because of this we partnered with CIWA, the Canadian Immigrant Women’s Association, to offer an informational workshop for brand new immigrants to Canada working with them to inspire them to pursue STEM careers.

As exam break hit early in 2020 the outreach team was at it again organizing a food drive as a continuation on some students’ Community Action Project from their grade 10 year.

For that food drive the team got some real world experience by promoting that event on RED FM, our local Punjabi radio station before gathering the food and sending it on its way with Love for Humanity, another win for the NE Calgary community courtesy of the amazing students on team 7277.

As a team always looking to make their mark the outreach team also led into 2020 with one more major camp as they descended on Telus Spark during Teachers’ Convention to run an Arduino camp for an afternoon at their day camps.

The moral of the story is whatever time there is to fill, this group will use it to make the world a better place.

But what about the robots?

Ya, we built some of them too. It started with two brand new groups of students starting their journey as a part of FTC teams 14717 and 15259 and the game Skystone.

After working through a few iterations of the robots for both teams they eventually settled on two very different robot concepts, 14717 created a holonomic X-drive robot that was dubbed Baby Yoda due to its bright green, two eared, phone holder; and another more conventional drivetrain that would eventually be dubbed the Blurrg.
Those robots were part of a program that successfully hosted three events at our school including two official FTC league meets, as well as a pre-season scrimmage.

They also travelled to The Hanger Aviation Museum for another league meet event.

Now while the teams did not win those events, with 14717 reaching a pinnacle for 3rd place in one tournament and 15259 also earning a 3rd place finish in another, they did compete through all of the events effectively.

Unfortunately for the FTC teams their season was cut short after a snowstorm interrupted their plans to compete at the Provincial Championships in the final week of their season. This was one of the disappointments for the season, but it did not dissuade them. Immediately after that news they rebounded and decided they would host their own tournament in May, the Flying with the Squadron Open Tournament. That plan will be put on hold unfortunately as the Covid 19 pandemic had other ideas, but look for that event in the 2021 season.

Of particular note on the FTC season was the creation of the Blurrg. This robot began as a kitbot style creation of vanilla variety and competed that way for most of the season. Partway through the season the FTC students responsible for it changed course and decided they would be taking a much more custom approach with their machine. This led to months of frenzied 3D Printing and laser cutting to get a robot together that was completely unlike anything Mandela’s FTC teams had ever created before.

It sets a high expectation for future FTC teams to reach for and exceed in the coming seasons.

Robotics teams are interesting in that they exemplify the limited nature of time by restricting you to a few years of high school to compete in. The skills that you learn however will last for a lifetime and two graduating students who exemplify that above all others are Risham and Dhruvee. As members of this team and of this community they have exemplified what it means to give back. In the past they have been responsible for coaching and mentoring FLL teams all around the city in addition to being a part of many of our other outreach events. They capped this all off with a run this year helping run the FLLjr Jamboree and judge at the FLL Championships at SAIT.

While we know that all of our graduates, including Archit and Alex, will take the skills learned in FIRST to go far in school, careers, and life, Dhruvee and Risham have taken what it means to give back to a whole other level.

So what about the big one? The FRC Robot?

Well, it was a process.

Unlike past years where we had a build-as-you-go attitude, this year we decided to take things a little more seriously and put the robot through its paces in CAD first. To that end the team settled themselves into Fusion 360 and got to CADing.

Meanwhile, Henry and the drive team got to taking their model and working on driving it in AutoDesk’s Synthesis so that they could practice without an actual bot. This would have given us a clear advantage as only having one regional to compete at isn’t conducive to significant amounts of practice driving.

Additionally, the planning allowed us to work on some more cosmetic changes including a paint job on the drive base, something the team badly wanted to look like the high level teams.

We went through the process though: design, prototype, test, re-prototype, re-design, re-test, rinse and repeat until finished, and in the end got to an almost finished robot.

...almost finished…

You see, this story doesn’t come with an ending for the build team as the Covid 19 pandemic interrupted the build and cancelled the Regional.

As the world got turned upside down the robotics team turned with it.

Now this story does come with some closure, and will with more when we play a modified Infinite Recharge game again in 2021, because FIRST Robotics teams don’t let circumstance dictate what they do.

Despite not actually being at a regional we were still judged on awards. Both Zack and Amy proceeded through their Dean’s List Awards and while they were not successful, the team was still up for the Chairman’s Award.

We all gathered in out Google Meet with students, mentors, and alumni to watch the results.

And we won. All of that outreach was recognized with the Chairman’s Award for the Canadian Rockies Regional, our third major award in the team’s three year existence.
It is a major honor and a clear sign of the hard work that the students on team 7277 have put in over the year. It is also thanks to our sponsors at Amazon, the Telus Friendly Futures Foundation, The Genesis Centre, uTechnologies, and of course Nelson Mandela High School who allow us to continue to make cour community and the world a better place by using robots to build kids.

So in the context of high school, and the context of robotics, we often become hyper focused on the present. As this is being written, the present is very constrained by a global pandemic. Likewise students and teachers love to think about the future and focus on their next steps for post secondary or career opportunities.

It is here that I want to point at the recent past and say, you did well.

Was there enough time to accomplish the task?    No.

Was there enough resources to create a perfect solution?    Rarely.

Was there conflict among team members?    You better believe there was.

Did things break at the worst possible time?    Absolutely, including schools and the societal norms we have now come to appreciate.

These are excuses.

Because what FIRST teaches us is not to give up despite having excuses, and that when we look at the past and all that Team 7277 the United Squadron accomplished in this season we can be proud.

Proud of the past, resilient in the present, and hopeful for the future.