Student Spotlight: FIRST Robotics Update

Khan Lab School
February 3, 2021 / 5 mins read

We had a great start to RobotX's fourthseason of the FIRST Robotics Competition on Kickoff Day. Although we all tuned in virtually, it was no less exciting to learn about this year's specially designed season. Due to the pandemic, we would not be able to build a robot for a traditional game. Instead, we were introduced to this year's three, remote challenge options to choose from. The first was the Infinite Recharge at Home Skills Challenge, a set of six challenges focused on testing the skills of our robot from last (2020) season, Infinite Recharge.

We are very excited about this challenge option because our team had not been able to attend the competition last year and this will be an opportunity to reuse our robot and see our hard work in action. Our second option was the Game Design Challenge, in which we were challenged to design our own FIRST Robotics Competition game from start to finish and pitch it to judges. This is an exciting opportunity for our team as, if selected, aspects of our game proposal could potentially be used in future FIRST robotics competitions!

Our final option was the Innovation Challenge, in which we were challenged to identify a real-world issue centered around health and fitness and propose a solution in the form of an actionable product. As a bonus, the California division of FIRST has been hosting weekly workshops to help guide us through the engineering and design process.

Excited and inspired, we jumped straight into brainstorming for the Innovation Challenge and Game Design Challenges (GDC) to get a sense of the challenges and make a decision on which one we wanted to pursue. We knew for sure that we would participate in the Infinite Recharge at Home Challenge (IRH) since it gave us a chance to use last season's robot and an opportunity for students interested in programming to learn more.

We began brainstorming for the Innovation Challenge by coming up with problem statements related to the prompt: encourage good mental or physical health through play or movement. Many of our identified problems surrounded social isolation and physical wellness issues during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as stress and anxiety issues due to the online learning environment. For the Game Design Challenge, we had fun brainstorming game “themes” or “concepts” to base our games off of. For example, the theme of the 2020 game, Infinite Recharge, was set in a futuristic, Star Wars-type city, while the theme of the 2019 game, Deep Space, was space exploration. Our own ideas ranged from time travel to pirate ships to pandemic response!

After a brief survey, where the overwhelming majority revealed an affinity for the Game Design Challenge (GDC), our team diverted its attention. While we were still in the process of brainstorming and detailing the GDC ideas fully, we were well on our way to coming up with a truly novel and exciting game.

Moving into Week 2, having decided to focus on the IRH and GDC, we doubled down on the brainstorming aspect and came up with five separate themes to expand upon. First, in “The Leaky Ship Game,” robots are challenged to repair a ship to stay afloat. For “The Cauldron Game,” robots are challenged to work together to cook soup for a fictional village. In “Market Mania,” robots race to operate a grocery store and deliver baskets of fresh food to customers. In “Search and Rescue”, robots save items from a burning building, while trying to put the fire out. And finally, in “Doomsday,” robots are sent to the past and must engage in eco-friendly activities to prevent the end of the world.

Over the course of the week, GDC group members rotated between the five ideas to build off of the original concepts. By doing so, almost everyone on the team was able to contribute to each idea. By the end of the week, we had five games with a developed story, tasks to perform, and a variety of interchangeable game aspect ideas.

During Weeks 1 and 2, a separate group of students led by Parth, Abhi, and Robert have been working on the Infinite Recharge at Home Challenge (IRH). So far, the IRH team has broken into two sub-teams, each focused on writing and developing code for the challenges they have chosen to pursue. The first subteam is working on replay code, using which the robot can record a sequence of actions when controlled by a driver and then perform them autonomously in the three driving-based challenges. The second subteam is focusing on vision code by improving our existing algorithms to assist in all the Skills Challenges. These challenges are based on last year's game.

In the Galactic Search Challenge, the robot must autonomously locate and collect power cells. In the AutoNav Challenge, the robot must autonomously follow three different predetermined paths. Finally, in the Power Port Challenge, the robot must collect and score as many power cells (small, yellow foam balls) as possible into the power port (a hoop to shoot the power cells into). Currently both subteams are working on debugging code and will soon begin videotaping and producing their final submissions!

While all our ideas were unique and inspiring, we are ultimately allowed only one submission. After the rotations from Week 2, in Week 3, we voted to narrow down our ideas to two games. Market Mania had the most votes and Search and Rescue had the most approval votes—approval voting is a system in which people can vote for more than one option to indicate which options they are interested in, rather than being limited to picking just one. With two games left to choose between, we spent the remainder of the week discussing the pros, cons, and more design consideration of each game individually and in-depth. Megan and Nunu championed Market Mania while Timothy championed Search and Rescue. After final pitches, discussions, and questions, we ran a second round of voting. The winning game, which our whole team is ready and excited to pursue, is...Search and Rescue, now rebranded as FIRST: Responders (a pun, sure to get us extra points)!

Next week we plan to start work in all aspects of design for FIRST: Responders. We are looking forward to developing the concept further, finalizing details, and starting the modeling and creation of final products.