"I was inspired by my FRC team to try to achieve the seemingly unachievable in life, and I learned so much from them. I learned how to be a leader, a learner, a programmer, a team player, and a mentor."
I was a programmer on the FRC team for 3 years. I never knew I would be a programmer, but one day I heard there was going to be a robotics team at my high school. I was excited and decided to join because robots are pretty cool. I had no idea what I would do on the team, except for maybe play with the robots. I was somewhat interested in electronics at the time, so I watched the other students put together the electronics and I cut a few wires. Then the team needed to do some programming.
I had about 10 minutes of programming experience, but I decided to join the programming team just to see what it was like. Pat Wahl, the lone programmer of the team quickly had the robot driving around and he let me look at the code that he wrote. I wasn’t all too familiar with Java, but I decided to take a look at it anyway. The code looked really cool, and I was amazed at how little it took to actually get a working robot. I tinkered with it a little bit, and I may have accidently deleted all of the code… But we don’t talk about that.
I began learning how to program on my own, as I knew that after Pat Wahl, we would be programmer-less. That was our first year, and we decided to restructure for the second, creating many cool positions. I decided that I would apply to be the director of programming and controls (I was the only programmer left, so what else could I apply for!). I got the position and began to learn more about programming for FRC. It was pretty cool.
That summer I became fluent in Java (well, as fluent as half a year’s experience can get you). That year I met a bunch of people who were interested in programming and electronics (all basically freshman). I wanted them to learn more and be able to contribute to the code that I would need to write, so I created an after-school Java class in which I would teach them Java. After creating about 10 different websites for the class, and holding two classes per week I had taught several students the basics of programming and how it integrates with FRC. Somewhere along the way, I decided to switch my intended major for college from aerospace to computer science. If it wasn’t for the team, I may not be where I am today: at WPI, living the dream as a computer science major. That year was a good year, but we were missing something essential on the robot. Our robot had 0 sensors. Yup, autonomous was fun to write and watch as it overshot nearly every turn and our robot ended up in several of our alliance’s robots. DO NOT USE TIME TO ACCURATELY TURN!!
I went to a program at WPI the following summer and learned how to use sensors. You know, sensors are pretty useful. I decided that we would not only do some simple sensor work that year, but we would be one of the teams that could do vision programming and be competitive. That’s exactly what we did. Vision was very difficult to understand, but I eventually got it down after many tutorials and examples. Our robot could see!
It may have been able to see, but it wasn’t a good athlete; it missed most of its shots. I kept throwing different math equations at it, and nothing would work. So, I just tuned it to the best I could and hoped for the best when that autonomous sound came on.
I may have forgotten to mention that I was coach at the competitions as well. That was fun! I got to see my autonomous program miss right next to the field. I also got to yell at our drivers, and watch as Sam continually broke the robot’s arm. I may have also forgot to stay hydrated, and got hurt because I was too short to reach the pennant that we needed to put above the driver station, but that was only half the fun. I enjoyed meeting the other teams, and I met some of my closest friends at college through FRC.
It was almost time for me to leave, the Java classes were coming to an end, and I had to finish the training of my padawan, Chris, to take over my role on the team. He learned quick, and became a great leader for the programming and controls department.
Towards the end of the year, my father passed away and the team helped me get through the tough times; all of them were always there to support me – I will never forget all of their kindness!
Now as a mentor, it is fun to see my team working hard to create the robot, and I am there to help them when a bug arises in the code. I have created several useful programming libraries to help them when they face similar problems to what I did on the team. Oh, and that not so accurate shooter – fixed. I just needed to understand coordinate frame transformations, which I learned on the Space Robotics Challenge team at WPI, and built a library that my team could use.
My hopes for the future of the team is for the programming team to not have to program the robot, just load an AI onto it and they will teach it to compete. It will be like a little puppy and they can teach it new tricks, and it would be amazing. I can only hope that day comes 😊