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Aerial Assist - 2014

Written By: Bridget N.

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FIRST is building the most passionate generation of innovators that the world has ever seen. For us, FIRST is a lifestyle, an outlook, and a mindset, and our message is being embraced by the communities that surround us faster than ever before.

FIRST has taught us that there are many stepping stones on the road to success, and that being adaptive and collaborative can give us a competitive advantage. From our humble beginnings as six students and a coach in a basement, Team 3061 has transformed into a Midwestern FRC icon. We owe a great deal of our success to FIRST for giving us the opportunity to pursue science and technology. The values of FIRST have shaped our individual personalities as well as our group dynamic. After being honored as our school’s Club of the Year in 2013, we more than doubled in size to 80 participants. Our greater numbers have enabled us to become a rising force in the promotion of FIRST and STEM in the Chicagoland area. This season of Huskie Robotics has been about growth: growth in size, growth in our abilities as a team, and growth out into the community.

One of the hardest challenges we faced this year was, as we grew, to maintain our focus in order to harness the best ideas. The solution was organization. Huskie Robotics is sorted into Mechanical, Electrical, Software, Fabrication, Scouting, and Marketing. These teams are lead by student experts. With clearly designated leaders, younger students always have someone to turn to for advice in their area of interest. Our structure facilitates communication as well. At every meeting, we come together as a full team to share what we’ve accomplished that day and how we will move forward. These “dinner meetings,” an integral part of our culture, let us ask questions, make suggestions, and keep track of the team’s progress. We are proud to have organized such a large team while remaining effective and connected to each other.

Despite our well-established organizational structure, members of the team never feel like they’re only part of “Mechanical” or “Electrical”; we are all members of Huskie Robotics. In addition to the aforementioned dinner meetings, another noteworthy contributor to team unity this year was our Kickoff. The lecture hall was standing room only as we welcomed over 100 students, parents, and mentors into our school early in the morning to plot the coming season. We watched in awe as the international broadcast unveiled the upcoming challenge. Immediately after watching the video, we got down to business. As a full team, we speculated on possibilities for everything from design to strategy, played Aerial Assist as robots to better understand the game, and celebrated the 18th birthday of one of our members. Ultimately, we came up with a goal we would all actively work towards: “Be number one, memorably.”

One of the unique opportunities we have this year is access to the technologies of the future. For instance, an important addition to our mechanical capabilities this season is the use of 3D printing in order to make pieces for our robot. When we need a complex, non-structural part of the robot, we are able to print it in hours at a relatively low cost. Without our printer, such pieces would be expensive and time-consuming or downright impossible to acquire. We acquired this machine through a generous grant from our school district to expand our career and technical education departments. 3D printing is a major game-changer in global manufacturing, and we know how to use it well.

We have created an entirely new Fabrication division that has also extended our on-site manufacturing capabilities. Previously, we had to send our designs for custom parts to an incredibly generous local sponsor. However, this meant that we could only make a limited number of these parts and had a significant turnaround time. Now, with a specialized fabrication team whose job it is to know how to use our new tools, including a mill, a lathe, a ShopBot CNC Router and metal working tools, fabrication runs much more smoothly. We are making parts quickly and efficiently, and students learning from our sponsors and mentors are always the ones working the machinery.

Our scouting team is relatively new. Three years ago, when we became truly competitive, this aspect of our strategy expanded enormously in importance. Our system started as a single person with a clipboard in the stands, but later progressed to a larger paper driven system and later a sophisticated web app. However, through all of these stages, scouting has had one purpose: to improve our understanding of other teams and their capabilities perfectly. In scouting’s first year, through hard work and dedication, we managed to become an Alliance Captain. Using our extensive data, we were able to select two teams that complemented our robot’s capabilities, although we would have overlooked them based on their seeding. Today, our fully computerized analysis provides our Drive Team with real-time information before every match. Team 3061 has a strong robot every year, but scouting gives us the ability to cooperate more effectively with other teams.

Finally, but most importantly, our team’s community presence has grown exponentially this year, particularly in education and volunteerism. The marketing team has worked harder than ever before to initiate different outreach opportunities focused on spreading the message of FIRST. We presented a program called “Science Saturday” for kids in grades 1-5 at the local library. Also, team members assisted at a five-day camp at the DuPage Children’s Museum teaching about the design process and simple machines. In addition, we held demonstrations at a district-wide science camp for elementary school students. Several team members attended a special training session for mentors and then went on to assist several FLL teams to successful seasons, including Champion, Project, and Core Values awards at the qualifying level and Ambassador and Rookie awards at the regional level.

We have learned that volunteering is the best way to fuel our passion for the importance of the work we are doing. This year, we helped out at the Illinois FLL Kickoff at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry with set up and answering the teams’ questions about the building and programming with Lego Mindstorms. Additionally, we worked at the SciTech qualifier and Northern Regional FLL tournaments with setup and teardown. We have also decided that two days before our Midwest Regional this year, we will, as a team, work with the nonprofit organization Feed My Starving Children to pack meals for underprivileged children around the world. There is no better way to unify a team than working together for a common cause.

Our connection with our community deepened this year with the addition of a new sponsor. GridConnect is a local software business that added its support to our team before our final competition last year. This relationship grew over the summer and expanded into a full sponsorship for this season. The founder and CEO of the company was so intrigued that he asked to personally  lead us in a Visioning exercise. This allowed us to set goals for not only our upcoming season, but all the way to 2019. We used this Vision to our advantage when creating our team’s business plan and learned the power of futuristic thinking.

Throughout this journey, our successes and failures have shaped us into the team we are today. Even though we are grouped into our specialties, we bring our talents together in order to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Our explosive growth during the past 6 years has forced us to change and develop a new organizational structure in order to use all of our potential to create remarkable impact. This season has tested our limits and ability to adapt to the new dynamics of our team. For many of us, FIRST is the first taste of what our future will hold. We are grateful and humbled to touch the lives of so many others along the way.

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