This middle school student is geared up for FIRST Tech Challenge

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Guest post by Cody Farwell, 13 years old and member of the FIRST Tech Challenge team Robogators.

This is my third year on the Robogators and it’s the second year we’ve been a FIRST Tech Challenge team. Our team is based in Marquette and half of our team travels between 25 and 35 miles for team meetings because some of us live in rural areas. This year we are all 6th and 7th graders, both home-schooled and public-schooled and we have a lot of fun. Sometimes it feels like we get a lot done and sometimes it doesn’t. We’re really excited to go to the state finals and like how our robot Roberta is shaping up.

We totally rebuilt her since the Petoskey qualifier on November 12th. We had trouble with our drive chain because there was too much torque on set screws and that caused burrs on our D-shaft axles. We switched to hex shaft with new hubs and mounts, so now our wheels work really well. We also cleaned all the rollers and spindles on our mecanum wheels and added chain and sprockets. Adding the chain was stressful because the first time we tried to cut the chain we broke the chain cutting tool. But someone with a powerful saw cut us for it, so Roberta drove again just Monday. The catapult we built during a scrimmage in October is smaller and more precise. I think the way our catapult now reloads is very cool and very simple. Our beacon pushers work well.

We have some autonomous programs but are not using sensors presently. This will enable us to score points in a few scenarios. I like programming the best of all that we do. Our drivers have been practicing and are really good. They will practice again this afternoon before going to Battle Creek. Some of our team is already driving down to be safe with the weather or visit family on the way. It’s 8 hours but took 11 last year. I’ll be with the drivers who also are the other programmers to do last minute tweaks.

We’ve also been working to build a fork lift to cap the ball (it’s a large exercise ball). We’ve figured out how to do it but might not finish in time. We still have to attach the cross country skis to the vertical slide. The curve of the ski tips picks up the ball well and makes it hard to drop. I really wish we had more time but we have done a ton and will have a good story to tell the judges. The judges will at least know how we thought about it and that might help how we do.

Sometimes we take field trips to learn about engineering at different colleges or at different companies. I know I want to be an engineer, probably a mechanical engineer but maybe electrical and computing. I’ll do FRC in high school but always want to be a mentor of the Robogators. I really like everyone on the team and we have the best mentors. We also do outreach in the community like demos and presentations and fundraisers.

Thank you DTE Energy Foundation for supporting us. It means a lot to us and we just made fenders and have your logo on them.

The DTE Energy Foundation has supported FIRST in Michigan through grants for several years.  FIRST Robotics is a progression of programs in which teams of students work side by side with technical mentors from industry to design, build and program a robot to foster interest in STEM careers.   This weekend, the program for middle school children, called the FIRST Tech Challenge, will hold its state finals in Battle Creek, Michigan.  Students work in teams of about 10 with their volunteer mentor to build a robot that can perform specific tasks during the competition.  To get to the finals, the teams had to participate in a number of qualifying events that took part last fall.  A number of DTE employees volunteer their time to help the students.