One of the many clubs that takes place after school at Eagle Rock is the robotics club. Led by Micah Rick and Janessa Techathamawong and sponsored by Mr. Carrano, meetings take place in room SA and occur weekly on Thursdays. Known as Eagle Rockbotics, or team #6658, the team participates in First Robotics Competitions (FRC), an international high school robotics competition. Founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, FRC sports over 3,000 teams, though many are retired. Every year, FRC has a unique competition, with entirely new challenges and parameters for robots to overcome. One example of a competition was last year's event, Charged Up, which had robots collecting and placing various cubes and cones upon raised nodes, as well as balancing and docking robots on an unstable platform. Additionally, FRC competitions involve a 15-second autonomous period at the beginning of each match, where robots operate entirely independently and can score extra points for completing the various tasks. While FRC competitions take place all over the world, they are located mainly in the United States, where the championship competition, located in Houston, Texas, takes place yearly.
After a long and bumpy road, the 2023 season ended very successfully for Eagle Rockbotics. The Port Hueneme regional competition, which took place on the weekend of March 5, 2023, had the team placing 36th after all 11 qualification matches had ended. However, after this very unsuccessful competition, a small group of team members worked in a fellow team member's backyard during the two weeks before the next competition. Starting work almost immediately after school, and working past 8 on most nights, these members dedicated themselves to preparing the robot and team for the LA Regional Competition. This hard work paid off, and Sergeant Tony (the robot) placed 6th out of the 44 total teams, qualifying for playoffs. While the team didn’t win, they did make it to the fourth round of playoffs, resulting in a record for them.
While the season was incredibly successful, it was a very difficult season, and there are many things that members of the team wish to change. Currently, the team is split into 4 separate subgroups that work on different parts of the robot. Mechanical is the team that both designs and builds the robot. Starting from prototypes and computer-aided design (CAD) designs, this group spends the most hands-on time with the robot, eventually resulting in their finished product that will be wired and coded by other groups. If mechanical builds the body of the robot, electrical makes the neurons. Once the robot is mostly completed, electrical steps in to plug everything together. While you might not directly see the wires running through the robot, electricity is necessary for the robot to do anything. Programming is the final subgroup that works with the robot. Coding the robot to do what it does is a programming job, making them the brains of the bot. From the auto-balance that brought the team so much success at LA Regional, to just moving the motors the right way, a good programming job is key to a successful competition. From designing shirts and buttons to reaching out to possible sponsors, admin runs the team from the shadows. Organizing events, purchasing the necessary parts to build the robot, and advertising to new prospective members are all activities that fall under the administration’s specialty.
One specific change for this season is improving training for new members. “We have a solid training plan for each team so people aren’t getting left behind or are getting confused in the fall semester,” says Janessa, co-captain of the robotics club. Last year brought many new members to the club, and it was not very organized, leading to several members without much work or training. This year has already changed this, and each group is working with the new members to adequately train them for the new season almost immediately with the start of the fall semester. Another change that Janessa wishes for the club is improvements on the administrative side; more outreach and publicity, increased sponsorship outreach, and better communication with the rest of the club are all goals this year. Sponsorships and fundraising specifically are extremely important, as one major aspect that richer groups have on their robots is swerve drive. Last season, Eagle Rockbotics used tank drive, which had four motors, two on each side. Each side controls three wheels, which move in unison, making it drive almost like a tank; hence the name. This form of propulsion, while effective, is more difficult to control, and generally moves and turns slower than swerve drive. Swerve drive is made up of four separate modules, each of which uses two motors. Similar to a shopping cart or office chair, each module uses one motor to spin the wheel and propel the robot, while the other turns it, allowing for 360-degree motion. Swerve drive allows robots to travel across the playing field much more efficiently, allowing a vast increase in points. As such, the most successful teams often use this propulsion method, but they are much more expensive, costing upwards of $300 per module, and this doesn’t even include the costs of other essential components of the swerve drive.
The robotics club is always open to growth and new members, and with the ever-changing FRC competition to overcome, this organization can be a great way to learn, have fun, and meet new people. If any of this interests you, come check it out in room SA!