Derek Fronek is a current engineering student at Purdue University. We dive into how education has changed with COVID and a decade of automation.
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Parker is an Electrical Engineer with backgrounds in Embedded System Design and Digital Signal Processing. He got his start in 2005 by hacking Nintendo consoles into portable gaming units. The following year he designed and produced an Atari 2600 video mod to allow the Atari to display a crisp, RF fuzz free picture on newer TVs. Over a thousand Atari video mods where produced by Parker from 2006 to 2011 and the mod is still made by other enthusiasts in the Atari community.
In 2006, Parker enrolled at The University of Texas at Austin as a Petroleum Engineer. After realizing electronics was his passion he switched majors in 2007 to Electrical and Computer Engineering. Following his previous background in making the Atari 2600 video mod, Parker decided to take more board layout classes and circuit design classes. Other areas of study include robotics, microcontroller theory and design, FPGA development with VHDL and Verilog, and image and signal processing with DSPs. In 2010, Parker won a Ti sponsored Launchpad programming and design contest that was held by the IEEE CS chapter at the University. Parker graduated with a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Spring of 2012.
In the Summer of 2012, Parker was hired on as an Electrical Engineer at Dynamic Perception to design and prototype new electronic products. Here, Parker learned about full product development cycles and honed his board layout skills. Seeing the difficulties in managing operations and FCC/CE compliance testing, Parker thought there had to be a better way for small electronic companies to get their product out in customer's hands.
Parker also runs the blog, longhornengineer.com, where he posts his personal projects, technical guides, and appnotes about board layout design and components.
Stephen Kraig began his electronics career by building musical oriented circuits in 2003. Stephen is an avid guitar player and, in his down time, manufactures audio electronics including guitar amplifiers, pedals, and pro audio gear. Stephen graduated with a BS in Electrical Engineering from Texas A&M University.
Special thanks to whixr over at Tymkrs for the intro and outro!
Welcome to the macro fed engineering podcast. We are your guests, Derek frolic and John Wagner
and we are your hosts Parker Dolman and Steven Craig. This is episode 146. John Wagner
is an electronics engineer with a background in logic design, analog circuits, system integration and testing. Currently, John is a mentor for the tech hounds and volunteers for the Boy Scouts of America. Derek Franek is a high school student from Carmel High School. Derek is part of the Carmel High School robotics team, the tech hounds.
So both of y'all are from the tack up, excuse me, tech towns. So can you explain more about what that group is?
Yeah, I can, I can start off here. So the tech rounds are a FIRST Robotics Team. First is the overall organization. It stands for for the inspiration Recognition of Science and Technology. And we compete in what is called FRC, which is the FIRST Robotics Competition. It's a yearly competition where teams are given six weeks, they're given a game at the beginning of January, given six weeks to design, test and build 120 pound robot to compete into it to compete in the yearly game.
So once that game generally like what kind of game
so the game is in fully different every year, so it's a new game. It's not like a traditional sport, like you won't see basketball or, or like football or something. They may use objects in those kinds of games, but they design it to what creative idea. So for instance, last year's was powerup. It was essentially like an eight bit video game video game theme. So like, there was like power up power cubes, you had to balance on a scale in order to gain points based on how long you control the scale for.
Okay, cool. It's 120 pounds is that like, it's like a constant every year, like the weight of the robot?
Generally, yeah, the weight of the robot is a constant. Yeah, it's 120 pounds without a battery or bumpers. And then it's 150 pounds next with battery and bumpers.
Okay. And these are actual robotics, not like Battle Bots, which are actually just giant RC cars.
Yeah, these are, these are robots, we've, we've programmed them all to run autonomous tasks to use computer vision to analyze targets. And to complete whatever objective in the game is in a more kind of controlled manner than you'd seen like a BattleBots, where it's just kind of driving around and just bus on or something.
Yeah, that's always been a big pet peeve for me about battle bots. Because they say the robots I'm like, no is an RC car that just has a weapon on it. I think
the closest one in BattleBots would be the chomp robot where it has the, like, the computer vision for the for the whatever that spike is. So whenever that robot gets close, it hits it. But other than that, yeah, they're pretty much RC cars.
Oh, that's kind of cool. Actually, I didn't know there was one that had computer vision
at the at the very least as a distance sensor. But they you know, use the buzzwords of computer vision,
uses cloud computing, to see if the enemy is close enough to it right. And then artificial
intelligence feeds into a blockchain.
So the tech hounds, this is a this is a group at your high school where you build it and well, I guess, from the ground up design and construct robots in order to compete, right?
Yes, absolutely. That's that's exactly what we do.
That's, that's incredible. I mean, back it back. And, you know, back in my day, I that was I guess High School was, I don't know, 15 years ago, or something like that, you know, robots were kind of not really achievable. So the so So talk a little bit more about tech hands, like what what is the group? How big is the group? How'd you guys start out?
Yeah, so in tech rounds, currently, as of this season, we have approximately 120 members on the team. And what we do is obviously, we build a robot to compete in the game. But we also do other tasks like we, I mean, it's essentially the we function as a business. So we have like, we have marketing we have, we have management we have we have it, which creates the website so people know about us. We have a construction division that can design the builds the field, so we have a practice something that practice a robot on. So we have various divisions and sub structures to actually function when we are doing different tasks other than just building the robot.
So, John, how are you involved in this project?
Well, the team is, excuse me, guided by adult mentors. When I say guided that's really If that's really not the relationship, you take Derek, for instance, he's been on the team for what, four years? Derek? Yeah. Fourth year, he doesn't need a lot of guidance. The mentors, offer, you know, most of them are engineers or they've had experience with a team before. For instance, I'm, I was trained in electrical engineering, what have they got me doing but designing gearboxes? So that's, that's a stretch for me, or it was a couple of years ago, for the first one I did. But a lot of the electrical work is pretty much blocks are wired together. So there's not a lot of electrical to do anymore. 20 years ago, I think that was different. So what do I so I offer advice, like, you know, guys, this thing is gonna be sticking an arm sticking off the robot, you really don't want to design it and lose sight, or build it and lose sight, that kind of thing. So I try to bring some sanity and regard strength of materials. I bring structured engineering techniques like, this is what our output has to be. This is what we think we're going to use for an input. Now what goes in between it? And work it through that way? If it's got to be a gearbox? What does it got to do on the other end? What's the motor interface have to be that sort of thing? Sometimes it works out pretty well like last year. Absolutely. Which I'll do
last year. That turned out so good.
Well, last year was, was actually probably, I believe, yeah, it is our most successful season on record. So we ended up winning several competitions, and then placing Fifth Third World competition. So it was really it was a great year and a really great learning experience.
Now, you may not be aware, but in the first universe, there are two worlds, one of them, one of them, the worlds competes in Houston, the one you mentioned, the other one competes in Detroit. Okay, that makes sense. Right?
So that two world champions, that correct
thing. Yeah, basically, yeah, the competition has grown so big that if you, you really can't hold it all in one venue. In fact, you can't hold it all in one town, because typically, there are two venues of the same size. Gotcha. So I'm gonna give you world champions, one out of Houston, one out of Detroit.
Do they battle it out?
I was about to say this needs to be like battle.
So this is the second year they've actually split it up into two because right now there's like, I believe over 67,000 active as far as two teams in the world, which has grown exponentially
667 1000. Teams, yes.
Teams, people teams. Yeah, boy, yeah, they saw the team as 100 Something people on it. Yeah, other teams are like, could be 1015 20. I mean, it really is in a complete range. We're definitely at that very high end where there's not a lot of teams and our current size. Our school is 5000 students. So we kind of draw from that population size. So proportionally, it kind of evens out, but most teams are generally between like the 50 to, like 1010 to, like 50 students.
Also, the mentor population varies by team. There's one team, not far from here, for instance, that has got a fellow that does robot robotics, professionally. And he his analyses at the beginning of the season are truly impressive. Something I'd like to get up to speed on.
Does he predict like, which team is going to go all the way or something like that?
Oh, no, oh, no, he predicts what he's looking for is a predictable performance from his robot. So he'll model as you he'll model it from the front end the motor end to the actuator end. And so if you want to, for instance, move the actuator vertically, whatever we have to go 10 feet last year.
Yeah, it was about is that 10 feet at the highest for the max elevator? Yeah,
yeah. He's figuring out how much input power and what drive train you need to achieve that,
instead of just kind of guessing and testing, right? Yeah, gotcha.
We try to do that. We try to do that too. We designed it, and then we start, oh, this motor just didn't get it. Let's put two of these.
Just make it bigger.
You know that going in? So you design, for instance, a gearbox with three motor mounts. And if one doesn't work, you just add a second one. And then make sure they both turn in the same direction. They laugh, they laugh, right. We had that little problem what two years ago when? Where they tried to turn a drop My that was built with PVC pipe with wooden flanges, they tried to turn it backwards against a ratchet, the motor, the motor turn one end of it, but the other end stayed stationary. So you can imagine the result
I was trying to drive a reverse a half inch steel ratchet. So
there's a story behind why it was half inch steel plate. I'm an electronics guy, what do I know about sprinkling material? And though we needed one, I probably could have built it out of aluminum. But hey, you know, we're, we've got a waterjet place, it'll cut it for us. Just do half inch steel.
Braid was adequate, that's a win for that side of it.
Hey, yo, so what side one then and then that battle of strength,
the motor one or the winch wire or the ratchet one, depending on your point of view.
So the coupling mechanism failed
the drum in between sheared into two pieces.
I'm thinking to probably shared pretty quickly at that point.
Apparently, I wasn't there that day, for some reason. I came in the next day or came in later, whatever and was shown the broken parts carnage
with with 100 some odd people on your team? How is it structured? How do you how do you kind of work out, you know, 100 people working on one project.
I mean, it's really hard for me to like get one person ie Steven to like do a podcast. So I can't imagine handling like 99 other people to do a podcast somehow you're successful
every week. I don't know how.
Yeah, so team structure, essentially what we have is we do a division based structure. So essentially, each division is focused primarily on whatever like robot Ops is the division that builds the mechanical functionality, the robot, programming slash electrical does the hardware, electronic hardware and integrates it with the software. And then the construction division there the division that builds the field that we want to practice on. So we can actually practice a robot in inaccurate environment, our IT Information Technology Division, they designed the website as well as the scouting system we take to every competition, so we can, so we can scout other teams robots and have actual data and how they perform in each match. So we can make an informed decision on who we want to pick as our alliance partners. And then finally, our Public Relations Division, essentially, kind of like the team management, they handle like our outreach events, our team image, that kind of marketing, essentially marketing division. And those are the major divisions of our team.
So how does, how does the Information Technology Group record what your performance or your robot,
that part utilizes the ever so willing members on our team to manually input data into laptops, the feed to a server, so they just essentially sit there, watch what each robot does, because we want to record every robot in the competition. So we know how they do. And they just sit? Oh,
so you also recording your competition?
That's a scouting part of it. Yeah, yes. Gotcha. What the scouts do? Yeah.
It's a really nice way of saying spy on your competition.
Hey, you gotta have you gotta have quality data in order to make a in order to make a good decision who you want to partner with. Because in the end of a competition, there's an elimination round, where you pick alliances like the top ranked members at the end of golf teams at the end of qualification pick to other robots, they want to be on their team to compete in the eliminations. So you want to know who's the best, so you can be with the best teams?
Gotcha. Yeah. Wow. So that's really organized. How was how was it all? Is there a student who leads all of this is as a student for each one of those division that leads all of this? How does it all work out?
Oh, yeah. So divisions inside of our team. Each division has an elected, elected lead, who, who basically is in charge of managing the functions within that division. So that way, there's kind of like a single person who you can kind of go to say, Hey, you're in charge of this. Here. I want to how's this going? So everyone can kind of see it that way. There's not just like a bunch of people working around, you kind of have one specific head for each division of the team.
But then Is there somebody who's overall that
on the head of the mechanical design of the robot, we have a team lead, who is also elected and she is the overall kind of leader of the team. She kind of manages the overall response. So he's kind of like, I guess, like a CEO kind of thing, where they kind of head over everything that makes sure everyone's going in the right direction. Just kind of handle those like logistical tasks. Make sure everyone like do we have this form out so people can sign it to be able to at tend to competition or like, just everyone? No. Here's the email to the whole team on what the logistical situation is that kind of stuff.
Plus her parents have a very nice facility that we can practice in.
Yes, that is very beneficial. purely coincidental.
But yeah, she definitely was the right. She's definitely the right one for the position. I mean, select Oh, she
is she has Yes.
So first is, who can be a part of first? Is it students? Is it? I? Clearly John is not a high schooler, I don't think
haven't been for years.
Yeah, so who can be in first is basically anyone can be part of first, the majority, like the competition, like the building the robot being part of a team. Students, obviously, the main ones who want they want engaged in building the robot. But the great thing about first is they really kind of foster the cooperation between mentors and students. They, you know, it's not just students build it, and mentors kind of watch and give advice. It's really kind of, they want it to be essentially kind of a one on one. We're building it together as a team, and not as like, mentors. And then students, it's you're all together in this learning together.
It's not like Pinewood Derby, where your dad just builds it for you.
Hey, no, it's we're all working together.
pinewood derby car is supposed to be a joint project.
It's supposed to be it's supposed to be
what was in our house. It was here, but
then you show up, but you're like, kinda like painted Pinewood Derby that you kind of hand carved and then like, you look over to like your friend and he's got like a CNC router. Like, you're like, there is no way you build that yourself.
Pinewood Derby cars were before the days of access to CNC routers.
Yeah, I love our CNC router. It's fantastic. So do I.
So how do you sign up and get
involved with FIRST um, so obviously, if you want to join a team, each team has their own ways to join, some are based in the height in schools, others, a community based organizations, you can go on first first headquarters website, they have a list of every team who's active and where they're located in so you can go and find what team is local to you, and then try to they have some have ways to contact them. Otherwise, you just kinda have to go and look on the internet and find out where they are, how to contact them, but and then you can also like at events or other events, competitions and stuff, you can volunteer, get a part of it through that way. There's really a lot of ways to get involved through teams and volunteering.
Alright, so yeah, basically, I'm gonna assume that there's with 7000 teams worldwide, you'll find a chapter close to you. Yeah, absolutely.
I mean, there's there's teams everywhere. And I believe they do actually have a map too. So it's kind of like pins of everywhere everyone is so kind of gives you a visualization, they're spread out pretty evenly. So there's usually probably a team near you.
Well, for instance, Eric, how many do we have here on the north side of Indianapolis?
Indiana, we have six No, 57 I'm probably wrong in that, but it's like 50s or 60s.
But on the north side of Indianapolis. We've got us
like 1010 Yeah, yeah, approximately.
Well, yeah. So like Parker said, there's a good chance that is one in your area. Yeah, absolutely.
There's most likely one in your area. I mean, unless you unless you're in like the middle of nowhere, but there still might be a team honestly.
A good chance there's one
in your high school. So if you're a engineer looking to be a mentor, though, how do you get involved? It's the same way.
There are two qualifications. One is to be one of those people that can't say no. And the other one is to be one of those people that goes and volunteers which is what I did in the first time in 2014. For very I had been retired for how long I'd been retired about seven years at that point. You know, being associated with the team keeps the brain active. It also gives me access to mechanical CAD tools you know, 3d modeler which for some reason the police I work never really wanted to buy a seat for me at the at the, at the CAD tool, being an electrical and all So, but it also associate you with people with young folks and that age in the high school age group, which is a very, very satisfying. I find it so it's one of the reasons I volunteer with Boy Scouts also. Anyway, As part of that, you know, community service thing they learned in Boy Scouts. I was a boy scout once.
I think I think it's you're always a Boy Scout. If you're in the scouts. It's like
being a Marine. You know, you're always a Boy Scout if you've ever been a Boy Scout.
Yeah, I think actually, Steven and I are Eagle Scouts, or you
don't think yeah, we're both equal skill?
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
My son is also so
I'm the, I'm the odd one out I guess.
If people want to get involved in first, I guess, find a local chapter in and want to build and, you know, help people build stuff?
Absolutely. Yeah. Just have the want to be able to help out and, yeah, get involved. It's not. Generally it's really pretty easy to get involved and find a place where you can help out and engage young young students and get them involved in STEM, catch them early.
So before we go on to the actual competition, you all's name tech hounds, how'd y'all come up with that name?
So our high school is the Carmel High School greyhounds. So it kind of ended up being a little bit of play on just replace grey with TIG. I believe it also, there was our founding one of the teams, Team 45, the techno cats. They were one of our they helped us found our team back in 2001. So we kind of took inspiration from there techno, and just kind of added it to our our schools animal. So that's what kind of the name came by.
And the website for all of this is first inspires.org. Is that right?
Yeah, the main Yeah, the main website is for first headquarters. Yes.
Okay, great. Yeah. So if you want to go find out some more information about all of it first. inspires.org.
Yep. That's where you find it. Cool.
All right, cool. Let's, let's talk more about the competing and FRC, which is the FIRST Robotics competition, which I guess would be For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, robotics competition would be the entire name of it for
all the main organization because there are sub levels of first in different competition levels.
Okay. All right. Well, and
they call it a sport they do like, it's legitimately like the everyone calls it a sport, which is great. And I love that I was watching a YouTube video on an earlier today, and there was a lot of arguments about like, is this a sport or not? And there was a lot of people who are very much on the side of yes,
I would definitely say it is. I mean, I've I've played football for like eight years before and I mean, it's it's equally competitive is an intensive an experience, as well as a learning experience. So I definitely say it's a sport. I'd call it.
I mean, if people are calling video games, sports, there's no reason why this can't be one.
It's the sport of the mind. Yeah, exactly.
It's not easy building a robot either. There's a lot of especially, I mean, people picked up 120 pound robot.
No, it's heavy. It's heavy. That's a sport by itself. I was doing that all usually. It's two people. Yeah. Students,
two people. It's not just one. And of course, with the bumpers on it could be 150. So yeah, we usually look for the smallest people on the team to take that job.
Yeah, I think it's slightly I think one person's slightly had an OSHA standards or something. So we have we have to spec to
well, you know, we, the way that military defines man portable is to put a handle on it. Sort of the same, the same principle.
I think Parker is pretty good at doing that. You just weld the handles on the all kinds of stuff, right? There's handles all over your Jeep now. Right?
Yeah, it makes it portable, right.
Buy something anyway.
So last year was competition. You said you were had to lift something up 10 feet. So what was that thing? Yes. So what was the overall competition to do?
Yeah, I'll just yeah, I'll give a give a little overview of the competition. So essentially, the competition is it's the name is powerup. So it was an eight bit video game theme. This game essentially is when the competition when the match started pits six robots on a field three on each alliances and to compete against each other and try to get the most points or to win the match. This the game this year, is essentially a game of teeter totter or like scales. So there are three scales on the field, one to short scales and one high scale in the middle. So each robot has to the goal is to tip the scale in your favor. And you earn points based on how long you control the scale. So one second of control was equal to one point per scale. So you can be like earning, you can get running one point per scale. And the goal is to maintain that lead as and you do that by placing what are called power cubes onto the scale. power cubes are essentially, they are just milk crates, like 12 inch wide milk crates, with like, like a violin or a fabric coating over him. So they just sort of not the hole in the middle isn't a problem. And essentially, you're what you're doing is picking those up, placing them in the scale, and trying to control the scale for the majority of the match. And then in the end game, which is the last 30 seconds in the match these matches last two minutes and 15 seconds. In the end game, the goal of the robot is to defeat the boss, which essentially constitutes three robots, all three robots in the team climbing, so lifting the robots off the ground, a minimum of 14 inches. And another facet of the game is there, the power keeps you gain to put on the scale, you can also put in an area which is on the ground, which is called the fault, where you can kind of put it in and score power ups. So it gives you like a boost. So doubles your score on the scale for 10 seconds, or, or a powerup that gives you control of a scale, even if you don't have control that physically. And then there's a third one that gives you an extra levitate, which is that end game climb. So you only have to have two robots physically climb, and then the third is gained through power ups.
So how do you is when you say climb? I'm kinda it's hard for me to imagine that. Can you
explain? Yeah, so in our robots case, it literally was there's a, there's a horizontal bar, like a like a steel tube. That's at the top of the scale, which is like eight feet off the ground. And you have to latch on to that bar and pull your robot up onto that line. Okay, yeah. So ours was like a winch and a pulley, or a winch and a rope pulling the robot up.
Gotcha. Yeah. So on whatever you're using to lift the the power cubes up, that hooked on to that bar, and then you just watched yourself.
Correct. In our case, our main way to lift the robot on that was a hook. So it was like a hook that kind of like, went over the bar and latched on to the bar. Okay, yeah. So it was like a hook that went up. hooked onto the bar, we drove away, it was a spring loaded class. So when the hook got pulled away from the bar, it deployed off the robot. So the spring deployed the mechanism holding it onto the robot. So it's free hanging, and then we just use the rope the pull up on the on the hook. From a winch.
Gotcha. Yeah. And, and when did you have to stack the power cubes on top of each other? Or how big is the scale?
The scale is like three feet deep by like five feet wide. So you could stack four cubes? wide, and then two cubes deep. So yeah, there every in high level competitions, there were multiple layers of stacking, especially when people made mistakes. And the stacks were like, even you'd have like cubes that sideways like not like fall off. Yeah. Falling. Yeah, that precision and accuracy in that is a major deal. detail about it. And also, I did forget, when I was describing the game, initially, the matches lasts two minutes and 15 seconds. But the first 15 seconds of the game is a fully autonomous period. So the robots run it or pre programmed instructions in do whatever the teams decide them to do to complete like to put cubes on the scale during that autonomous period where you earn bonus, like double the points for doing it autonomously.
But only 15 seconds. Yeah,
the robots are only controlling themselves for 15 seconds. And then human players take control for the rest of that two minute match.
Gotcha, gotcha. Okay. So who gets to? Do you have a division that controls the robots? Or is that part of robot ops.
So what it is it's we have it's called Drive team because they drive the robot. It's basically it's a, it's a position where people try out for, because we obviously want the best the most qualified individuals to drive the robot, generally each year as a team of two. So one to drive and then one to operate the like, various functions on the robot, like the lifting, like the lifting elevator, and the like intake system to pull the cubes into the robot. So it's fun to see two people. So it kind of divided the workup as well as there's the the team coach, who's an adult mentor, who coaches the Drive team as they're completing the tasks to kind of keep them on track. Gotcha, because there's a lot going on. So you need someone kind of just watching and informing you what's going on.
Yeah. So how, like, how does your team prepare for these competitions? Like how do you prepare the robot? How do you so like after you're done building it and stuff? How do you prepare your team?
Okay, so once we're done Once the six weeks we have to design and build the robot pass. Once you only have six weeks, we have six weeks, we have some January, the first week of January to like the middle of February. And that's it.
That's pretty aggressive. Yes. So we ran, we ran a competition to like Blink LEDs. And that was six weeks long. And we had people complaining, that was not enough time. Yeah. Now you building a robot in six weeks. turnaround time
is incredibly short. That's why majority of the time we don't do during the season, we don't have like, electrical design, because obviously, turnaround times for designing a complete sub system takes longer generally, in six weeks. I mean, you usually wait a week to get your PCBs back. I mean, I'll get JLC. And they'll do it in 48 hours, but three days for shipping from China, if it's on a weekday. So like turnaround times are just too long, I'll do stuff out of the season. Which you're allowed to do, but there's like a lot of rules that can go over about what you can and can't do outside of season, but I have designed stuff for the team that we've utilized in a robot, just not in the season.
Gotcha. Yeah, that's, that's six weeks is crazy.
There are more sleepless nights. And I'd like to admit, getting that done way too many paths to AM's on when I have to get up at 530. So,
priorities. Yeah, working on robots.
You know, you got to robots gonna get done. And it's incredibly fun to do it. So just you got to spend the
time John, you are going to say something,
I want to kind of say it's pretty intense for the mentors to i Being retired, I can pretty much be there. Every night the team is meeting or every, whenever the team is meeting. And during the build season, I do prioritize the team over everything else. So it's it's an intense activity. Last year, we managed to build two robots, one to practice with, and then one to sequester at the end of the build season that then didn't get used again, until the first competition,
when to prepare for the competition. We have a we you have to do what's called the end of the build season bag and tag, which is literally put your robot in a giant plastic bag and put a number tag on it. So you're not allowed to touch it until you go to a competition. So after the six weeks, you cannot touch that robot in order before competitions.
If you do have a second one, you can practice with that and maybe discover some operational problem that then you can correct down the road somewhere. Derek, what are the rules around that?
For the second robot there really, there aren't any rules. The second robot is long, because you only have one robot to compete with. The second one you build is all yours. And that's that's the reason teams build two robots. And this reason we build two robots is so we have the flexibility in order to spend because generally between competitions, like from the end of the time, Bill season ends, we generally have like weeks in between competitions, maybe three, maybe two, maybe one. And we spend, we try to spend as much time as possible, improving your robots design between those, because obviously, six weeks is too short. And we need to continue to spend more time to to actually improve the robot, especially in the software segment. Most of the time, software does not really get hands on with a physical robot until the very last like very end of the actual build season. So giving them as much time as possible. Post build season with a secondary robot really allows us to improve what they can, what the robot can actually do.
You also do repair during that time, two things break, as you might imagine robots, although you're not supposed to make contact, robots still hit each other, right? Oh, absolutely. And so
I have some great stories about breaking during competitions.
So So before we get to that, so you can't so I'm gonna assume you can't change the besides repairing that you can't change the physical aspects of your robot, but you can change the code that's running on it.
Yeah, you can change the code and then just deploy when you open the robot between competitions, certain competitions, you are allowed a set amount of unbag time the week prior to that like the week immediately before that competition, you're given generally six hours of unbag time where you have six hours to take care of out of the bag, practice repair improve in that time, and you have to bag it up after those six hours before you can go to the car before we can get to the competition.
Gotcha. Okay, cool. Yeah, that sounds reasonable. So I want to hear these horror stories now of
a it's more of the trial by fire and I guess lessons in material design, material strength. So I guess To start, one of the crazy things that happened started in our second competition. The second competition. After we competed in original original competition in the very first week, the competition is open, we generally try to do this to give us that initial competition to see how the robots going to perform in actual, actual competition setting so we can spend our time for the next competitions and really improve what we see is wrong, because we just don't get enough time to test. So this the second competition, we had, by this point in time, we had determined that our mechanism to physically intake the cubes into a robot, so we have a hold of them, in order to lift them to the desired height with the elevator system was not sufficient for the what we need it to do. So we spent the intervening like two ish weeks redesigning an intake mechanism with better, better geometry that allowed us to intake the cubes better, what essentially it was, is two parallel bars that have compression wheels that pull the cube in by just rotating the wheels and sucking it in essentially.
So it was that operate kind of like a, a pitch machine where you dropped the ball and it has a wheel that spins and spits the ball
out. Like the concept of using the reverse. Yeah,
well, yeah, I'm reverse but same kind of concept is using the friction on the wheels to
grab the wheels to suck it in is yeah, that's an accurate description. Okay.
Yeah, we use the pitch machine idea. Some years ago when the game involves throwing a Frisbee. Yes, yeah, definitely. That robot spit off Frisbees, like a machine gun accurately put out.
Yeah, that was a very, yeah, that 2013 was a very successful year. Yeah, ultimate ascent was a great year for us. I have a
patient there. Well, yeah. So it was worth watch. It was worth seeing.
Yes, sorry, back to my back to my story of disaster on the field. So essentially, we redesigned that intake, mix them with better geometry, and cut out the cut out, we rounded out the 2d plates. So it's like a stack of two plates like compressing holding the wheels together with bearings and spacers to keep it separated, we machined those out of originally out of 16th inch 6061 aluminum so it was a pretty pretty thin material as well as we also had like, like lightning patterns to decrease the weight of it. So kind of further reducing the strength the structural stability of the of the part,
the lightning patterns made it go faster to write
Well about the lightning. So yeah,
yeah, so this pattern, this kind of design, although in initial testing and stuff it performed in it's performed exceptionally well and like the actual design of the intake did perform above and beyond expectations, because it was pneumatically operated so it would open and close to be able to get the cube a wider angle so it can kind of like open and close to grab the cube a little bit better the wheel is in their default state would grab the cube with compression that opening up wider just made easier as well as their like high tension springs compressing, giving more compression on the cube to keep it really tight so we don't it doesn't slip when you're raising it up because there's like there's no bottom plate holding it there. So it's all it is is friction and compression holding the cube into the robot.
So this this design performed really well but then when we got to competition
obviously the stress and strain have numerous impacts aggressive driving just the normal rigors of what we find in a competition. The those intake mechanisms really showed a lot of began to show serious signs of were actually the the first night before the competitions were running practice matches, our driver got a little aggressive with the controls and ended up slamming the intakes fully extended out in front of the robot right into a wall. So the metal kind of did a a bent in on itself. So the thing just kind of shrunk into itself as the middle folded on one of the under the lightning pattern joints. So we spent half an hour just we spent like almost half an hour taking just like plates of thicker like quarter inch aluminum and like C clamps and stuff and just like compressing it trying to straighten back out again and getting it back into shape. We managed to get it to work and we were able to like continue For the rest of the competition with varying degrees of wear and tear, until obviously, the only time it's going to break is during when we fortunately made it to like the final eliminations of the competition. That's of course the time when it decides to break. So these metal plates after being beat around for the rest of the competition, getting more and more bent up, finally decided it was time to just fracture and fall apart. So in the heat of the competition during final eliminations, our intakes had shattered and we're nonfunctional. Mainly because not because like the whole thing fell apart, because most of the posts, the standoffs are holding it together. Like even though members fractured, the whole thing was like, it just didn't fall apart. But what the major issue was, was that these intake wheels, the output stage of the the gearbox that was driving it was belt driven. So the belts, the belts due to the fact the intake kind of compressed in itself, last tension, because the distance shrunk, so it wasn't spinning. So what we ended up having to do in like, less than five minutes while we're people are going is to get back in the competition. And we had tight turnarounds and we had to keep fighting through matches, were able to manufacture what are essentially like splints, like, just wants to like bolt the pieces back together. Like we just took some like L bracket and just like cut it down the size, drill holes really quick and just kind of split it back together in order to get it back into a functioning state, which we did actually win the competition with it working. Actually one side working, only one side of the intake was actually spinning because we rip the belt to shreds. So the thing just kept trucking with shattered intake plates and shattered intakes and just one side actually spinning. Yeah, that's just one of the crazy stories. I mean, we've had numerous other occasions, I learned a very important experience. Do not use polycarbonate like lexan with Loctite. It shatters like you put Loctite on it and five minutes later, 5 million pieces. So
it Yeah, it Bertels that. If you go out online, you can find admonitions about not using Loctite with Lucite. But we didn't know that. Now we're Yeah, it
was. Yeah. Because that was 15 minutes before another match, and we to frantically reassemble a new intake onto the robot and put it back together before the next match. So that was fantastic. But yeah, that's one of the crazy stories. More but I don't want to keep just like going on with crazy stories. Most most of the time this year is revolved around the intake shattering. We've had some trouble with some of the gear with occasional trouble with a gearbox and a robot as well as the deployment. But the gear the intakes are the crazy story.
Yeah. Sounds like it sounds like that's like the majority of where you get your points is from collecting the boxes and putting them onto the scale. Yeah. Which is what that whole mechanism does.
Absolutely. Yeah, that's, that's yeah, that was the major. It was the major issue.
So what's next for the tech rounds.
So what's next is it's November. So that means we have two months, well, less than two months until we start build season of 2019. So we start January 6, they release first headquarters releases the game, and they released the game. And that's when we start building a new robot for that competition season. So we're just kind of right now we're in pre season, which essentially, all our new members are for this year, just kind of retraining, getting got doing some kind of team bonding, getting people know each other, getting people know the equipment, and the like, what we're building what we're about. So we're kind of wrapping that out shortly. But that's what we've been doing since the start of school this year in August. And
so you won't know what the game is until January 6, correct?
Yeah, we do not know any, like specifications, what the games going to be. The only thing they give us is like a teaser, which essentially he's just like, here's the theme because this year's theme is deep space. They gave him like a little teaser trailer. But other than that we don't know anything that you can actually design you can actually design for so it's just completely blind until you get into that six week build season.
So but the teaser at least tells you something. It says that within it tells you that within the field space you're not going to have any gravity so you've got something to go on. And you know it's not going to be the the often rumored water game. And it's true. So
is that like a inside joke is that it's gonna be water game.
Yeah, every year it's gonna be water game. 20 Whatever. Yeah, it's that's kind of the big joke.
There was a water game. They played it in swimming pools in California,
but not for this competition. But not for us first. Yeah, not for first.
No, there was a team that had first gotten to do what they were together that first time that year that won that competition the, from a less than a fluid school like we are. I mean, we have a lot of sponsors. We have a lot of money. We've got a lot of people involved. And this team did it with practically nothing. So you know, it's it's sort of like the movie Hoosiers. Right? back country high school that wins the competition. Yeah, like October sky or something. Yeah, like October sky. Great movie, by the way. Good. Good book too. Once the build season is over, mentors have an opportunity to like I do go and watch the competitions. If we get a free travel overnight, for instance, you're always need chaperones, and then people like Derek's dad, who really get involved with repairing the robot off working in the pits themselves. I tend to stay out of the pits. I get involved at the front end of things, but that all works out head boy. I'll tell you these guys scrambled last year. We got to do better things. Build season this year. No. Loctite on Lucite for instance.
Yes, that would be ideal. ideal circumstances.
And no sin aluminum with lightning bolts on it. Right?
Yeah, no, no lightning holes are thin aluminum. Yeah. Don't let it out. It's it tends to get a little shocky.
Well, I think we can lighten things by being smarter about how we put the lightning holds and, or how we arrange. One of the nice things about the CAD tool is that it it allows us to do some applied portions and apply bending to it. And just to see how it's how it responds.
If 150 pound robot slams into a wall will this bend?
Well, that may be hard to thaw hard thing to model in the good tool, but but the
ideal thing is choosing a material like like the reason we went to from metal to like leg sand, which we use for the intakes now is it can take those impacts to form and then return to its original shape without actually like breaking. Gotcha. Yeah. Definitely.
Yeah. But if you hit it hard enough, that does shatter. Now, now we had a very successful season. Looking forward to another one.
So does anyone see me? Do you have any other questions?
No, I think I think I'm pretty good.
I. So we would definitely want to have John and Derek back on to the podcast after the next design cycle, maybe after the first shakedown run, so you can talk about the new game and what y'all built for it. Yeah, that sounds good. And
we'll definitely have to talk a little bit more about electronics. Because we didn't really get much into that, but it can definitely do it. Oh, that's cool. Yeah, cuz we, I definitely done some electronic design for this for this FRC competition. And it's been really interesting.
I was gonna say, you know, we control motors that have a stall current of what 100 and 150 amps or something like that. So you don't want to stall the motors, it's just, you know, it would it would destroy the battery if there wasn't this 40 amp circuit breaker in between it. So there, there's a lot of there's a lot of guests, I wouldn't say guessing we attempt to design things at the front end. But towards the end of the build season, when things are perhaps not performing quite right, we double the motors or quadruple the number of motors.
You laugh, but we did do that.
You laugh. Now we have ways to do it. And the idea is to design for instance to get the gearbox last year so that you can do it,
as well say is designed for for x in case you actually need the 4x
Yeah, designed for modification designed for adaptability. So that way you have the ability to kind of if you determine whatever you design wasn't sufficient, you already have kind of an upgrade path pre design. So like you design a gearbox you make sure you have expandability pre built into your design. Make sure whatever you have can be modified. You know, maybe don't add those lightning holes. You can just modify it your own new hole bolt something down so you don't remove too much material, that kind of stuff for you just expect to make changes don't expect whatever you make at the end of the season is the final revision. Obviously, there's never just one revision. It's never 1.0. It's always 1.01. At the very least
thing we do, for instance, is how we assemble it with a high strength pop rivets. Not just one many high strength pop rivets. But hey, if you look at the rovers on Mars, that's how they're put together. And a few bolts but
yeah, pop rivets. NASA loved ones you.
That's right. Another thing that we did this year in the last game was to pay attention to keep to keep an eye to keep a halfway decent idea of the weight of each sub assembly. So that we would have an idea that we were going to be within the 120 pound weight limit. When we got to the end,
we still ended up spending several hours drilling holes into the robot to try to decrease the
just putting speed holes in
my hand drill and a step that really, really did some really decent work for a while there. Do we really need to
remember what half a pound were we half a pound under?
Something like that we are definitely within a pound. So certain ripping
opposite ties and tape and
this does this piece really need to be entirely solid. Well, really, it's if it's Swiss cheese and do a million million pieces.
Do we really need the fool with duct tape? Can we get away with three quarters
to fill you fill your tires up with helium?
Oh, oh, I'm not sure it would matter but especially
that's how we get up to the top of scale. We just it is less dense. We float our way up.
Yeah, yeah. When the theme this and that's negative weight. Yeah. Lighter. The
robot anyway. Better.
Yes, it did.
You want to sign us out?
Yeah, I can do that. That was the macrophage engineering podcast. We were your guests. Derek Franek.
John whitener and we were your host, Parker, Dolman. And Steven Craig.
See you next time guys. Right oh,
take it easy.
Thank you Thank you. Yes, you are listener for downloading our show if you have a cool idea project topic or you're interested in getting into the first program. Let Steven and I know Tweet us at macro fab or email us at podcast at macro app.com. Also check out our Slack channel. If you're not subscribed to the podcast yet, click that subscribe button. That way you get the latest episode right winter releases and please view us wherever you listen as a helps the show stay visible and helps new listeners find us
Derek Fronek is a current engineering student at Purdue University. We dive into how education has changed with COVID and a decade of automation.