“Robotics does not stop!” is often repeated enthusiastically by members of Westtown Robotics. Our coaches and captains plan and lead a full year of activities that fall within four distinct seasons: Preseason, Build, Competition, and Postseason. Each season is characterized by the availability of the participants and the nature of the goals.
Embedded in the Westtown School core offerings, the Metal Moose takes full advantage of having a designated “check-out” time during part of the year for team meetings. The majority of our members are boarding students. This allows us to work extensively in the evenings and on the weekends; team members not only know each other through robotics but also interact in school on a daily basis. Westtown Athletics Department requires every student to participate in extracurricular activities (or “check-outs”) after school, and Westtown Robotics is an activity during winter season. The whole team is able to meet every weekday afternoon, allowing students from different divisions to share and communicate ideas. (See Team Meetings on p. 9)
Despite the opportunity offered by working in a boarding school environment, the Metal Moose also faces particular challenges because of this environment. Most team members have multiple interests, participate in several clubs, and hold student leadership positions, all of which require considerable energy and time outside of robotics. Coaches recognize the challenge of time management and encourage students’ to responsibly manage their busy schedules and strive to find balance to be successful in all areas. Westtown’s winter athletic season only covers our Build season. Therefore, team members tirelessly devote extra time during Preseason, Competition season and Postseason.
The Preseason is the perfect time for Westtown Robotics to participate in various outreach events including demonstrations of the previous year’s competition robot at local schools and communities, visits to local businesses, and the initiation of fundraising activities. Our Preseason starts as early as the school year starts in September. Because Preseason overlaps with Westtown students’ fall athletic schedule, the team generally plans activities on the weekends to involve every team member.
Team Captains for the Engineering, Programming, and Electrical divisions started off the year with hands-on training in each of their fields. The Engineering division started with basic shop safety, worked its way through basic tool operation, and ended on precise machining for the more advanced members. The Programming division began with a basic introduction to C++, which was new to many members, the introduction to software to enhance developing the programs, like Eclipse and GitHub, and ended the preseason working with PID controls in encoder feedback-driven drive systems. The Electrical division started the year by learning the different electrical components of the robot, learning how every each part is connected, and the finished the preseason by building a board bot, a wooden board that has functioning electrical components, which they then gave to Programming to help them put what they learned into practice.
During Preseason, team mentors provide a variety of opportunities (in the form of small group seminars) to learn general business planning, fundraising techniques, cash-flow forecasting, brand management, website code writing, and database management. The skills learned are put to use immediately as the Business and Communications divisions brainstorm and plan the fundraising and social network campaigns for the year.
The captains of the integration and special events team have been hard at work making sure that each of the sub-teams actively and clearly communicate with each other. Developing a coehisive team structure is essential for the implementation of our business, programming, and engineering game plans. The integration team also helps eliminate mistakes due to improper communication or collaboration. The special events team has been hard at work planning out the Westtown districts event and planning for special programs that are developed alongside the business team.
Analyze Game, Prototype and Build
The Build Season is whirlwind of activity for the team. We begin with full team meetings, including all divisions, to collaboratively analyze game strategies and come up with robot designs, and then the Engineering and Programming groups move quickly into systems prototyping in the shop. As prototypes are developed and perfected to operating subsystems, the engineering team begins to develop a vision of systems function, sensing and integration that drives the build. Once the robot is in its final form, extensive testing for robust configuration and compliance with expected outcomes is undertaken. Finally, the robot is packed away and ready for our first competition.
Step Up Social Media, Draft Award Submissions and Continue Fundraising
After the initial robot build collaboration, the Communications and Business group step up the social media campaign, document progress made by the other divisions and continue with fundraising projects established in Preseason. This is also the season in which the variety of FIRST® Awards are reviewed and the work of drafting submissions is completed.
The team elects a student Drive Team consisting of driver(s), operator(s), and drive coach(es) for competitive events. In some years, due to the limited space and time, the team has been training drivers and operators at the first event of the season. In other years we have set up a carpeted floor to drive the robot in Westtown’s Field House. Next year, after relocating our workshop into Westtown’s new Science Center, we hope to set up a space designated for robot driving practice.
The team recognizes the importance of scouting at competition events. A small group of students from the Build Division is in charge of creating a spreadsheet that contains information we want to know about other teams’ robots, as well as forms to document other teams’ performance in each game. On the first day of each event, our Scouting Team surveys all other teams in the pit, recording specifications of their robots. During qualification rounds, the whole team, except students in the pit and the Drive Team, scouts and documents other teams’ performance. Scouting helps our alliance to decide on game strategies and helps us to choose during alliance selection.
Each year, Westtown Robotics competes in two district events. Based on team performance, if qualified, we advance onto Mid-Atlantic Regional Event and further onto the National Championship. At the events, all team members wear their Metal Moose T-Shirts and are vocal supporters of our alliance. Our cheer is becoming well known at events, as announcers and spectators alike love to shout our trademark “MOOOOOOSE”.
The Postseason marks Westtown Robotics’ advance planning for the next season. The Business division students conduct a SWOT analysis on the team’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats based on our performance during the past Preseason, Build Season and Competition Season. The SWOT analysis serves as a guide to help us set goals for next year and the next 2-5 years.
Student Leader Appointments
During the Postseason, the graduating captains work with the coaches and mentors to recommend students to fill Division Captain positions for the following year.