2013 - 2016 Experience by: Kyle Corry

"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 😊


2013 - 2014 Experience By: Abigael Peckham

"Nearly two years removed from my competition season now, I still remember the feeling. We were brand new, no one saw our success coming. I think on a lot of levels, we didn’t see it either."

In our first year, The Gongoliers could be best described as disorganized. Fun, amazing, and disorganized. Nothing against us, even though some of us had experience in FLL and FTC, none of us had competed on the FRC level. Most of us didn’t have any robotics experience at all, aside from being technologically inclined. We had a rather large roster the first week. By the second week, our roster had decreased by nearly 1/3, and even after that, there was a slow trickle of kids who stopped coming to meetings. But there were 15 who stayed, and a core group of kids who were there every day. Those kids are the reason for the Hall of Fame.

Our biggest mistake going into our first year was our lack of seriousness. We had a lot of laughs, but sometimes it was more counterproductive than anything. For the Bryant 2014 event our first year, one of our team members Pat made a hilarious pamphlet in his spare time giving us all funny background stories. When we brought it to competition, someone from another team commented that it didn’t make us seem like serious competitors. It should have been obvious, it was a joke, after all, but none of us had thought about it on that level. If robotics taught me one thing, it’s that people take their robots seriously. I played soccer for 13 years, and at the high school level, the crowds have absolutely nothing on FRC. The atmosphere is addictive.

We were also very good at something I like to call active procrastination, or list making. We made list after list detailing who would do what, but it never seemed to work out that way. We spent an entire meeting filling up the board with names for the team one day. Believe it or not, The Gongoliers was the product of nearly an hour of “serious” thinking. Later, we learned that a gongolier was an actual thing; “a man with a strong voice and a noisemaker who walks through the streets of the village and announces the news.” Not just a clever combination of Mr. Gongoleski’s name and Mr. Coffey’s gondoliering.

At our first ever competition, the Groton event, we learned a valuable lesson; NO GREEN WIRE. On the first night, we were expecting to go, check in the robot, practice a little, and then go home. Then, it happened. Upon inspection, we were told that the green wire we had used was not allowed. Unfortunately for us, we had used the green wire to wire nearly the entire robot. It took us hours to fix. Instead of having a leisurely night of practice, we spent the entire time with about 10 hands in the robot chassis, frantically working to replace all of the green wire with regulation red and black wire that we did not have enough of. Even then, we had trouble finding what we did have. Our toolboxes were unorganized, we didn’t have a pit. If I remember correctly, the only workbench we had was the plastic table they provided for us. Without the generosity of other teams, we would not have even been able to fix the robot that night. That’s another thing about robotics, as fierce as the competition is, it is indeed friendly. Other teams want to see you succeed as much as they want to win. FIRST really stresses teamwork in their competitions.

Nevertheless, we were strong competitors that year. We had lofty goals for our robot initially, with hydraulics, and 100 other things we couldn’t afford. In the end, we settled on a robot that helped instead of one that could score big points. It turned out to be the right choice. We placed something like 39th out of 500 teams in New England, and won several awards including the Rookie Allstar at one event. Nearly two years removed from my competition season now, I still remember the feeling. We were brand new, no one saw our success coming. I think on a lot of levels, we didn’t see it either. We dreamed about it, sure, but realistically? Our cube of a robot with sharp corners and a sharpie drawn shark mouth didn’t exactly look like a mechanical masterpiece. If anything, we proved that efficiency doesn’t have to look pretty.

The team has come a long way since then. As a mentor, the first event my schedule allowed me to attend was the Bryant 2015 event. I was actually shocked at the appearance of our pit the second year. It was… neat. It had nice signs and bins for everything and the right color wires. It was downright professional, nothing like the rag-tag assemblage we went to that first competition in Groton with. And the robot had angles that weren’t just 90˚. I wish that we started The Gongoliers my freshman year instead of my senior year so I could have had more time on the team, but I’m looking forward to mentoring again during the 2016 season, and watching them grow even more.

Abigael Peckham

2013 - 2014 Experience By: Michelle Chretien

The First Year of the Robotics Team

"Throughout the whole season, I definitely learned things that will help me in the future. I hope that others like me will realize that you don't have to be an engineer or scientists to get involved with FRC"

So being on the team the first year was fun, but also different. I've been part of robotics teams (FLL and FTC) since I was in 5th grade, so I was expecting it to be similar to those. Going to the first meeting and seeing how many people were involved was really cool. Also, finding out that year's challenge and starting to brainstorm and strategize was so exciting. As we continued meeting, I started to work more on the business aspects of things. I created a letterhead, drafted some donation letters, and designed and ordered our tshirts. In the beginning, I felt that the business side was the best place for me because, unlike most of the other team members, I had never taken an engineering class. I believed that because I wasn't as interested in mechanical or computer engineering, that I couldn't or shouldn't get involved in working on the robot. As the season went on, Mr. Coffey, Gongoleski, and Mr. Mazzone helped me see that I was capable of helping to construct the robot. That year I was able to help build the sides of the robot and learn how many of the parts worked and how they fit in the robot. I also gained more experience using tools and learning how to use them safely. Being on the team definitely helped me step out of my comfort zone a bit, and I had a lot fun doing it.

The first year was also a little difficult because, as a team, we were all figuring out how things work. We all had lots of other commitments so not all of us were able to make most of the meetings. But we were able to work through it and win the Rookie All Star award at the Bryant competition!

The competition day was amazing. Going into set up the night before, I wasn't sure what to expect. But once competition day arrived, you could just feel everyone's excitement. It was so cool to watch the matches and keep track of what place we were in. My favorite part of the competition was talking to the judges. I loved being able to show off what our team was able to accomplish.

So, all in all, it was hard but all the struggles and hard work paid off. While we did have long days, we were still able to have a lot of fun at the meetings. I am so proud to have been a part of the Gongoliers' first year. I am also honored to have been one to the first members voted into the Hall of Fame!

Throughout the whole season, I definitely learned things that will help me in the future. I hope that others like me will realize that you don't have to be an engineer or scientists to get involved with FRC. I chose to pursue a career in Baking and Pastry Arts, but I enjoyed and valued my time on the FRC team. I think that the team atmosphere allows people to feel as though they are a part of something big, even if it's not what they want to go to college for. I feel that everyone could gain something from this experience-whether it helps them decide what they want to do after high school, or provides them a feeling of belonging, or helps them meet new people and make new friends.

Michelle Chretien