|One of the fleet of Google buses that ferried kids between|
venues - showing how much corporations supported the event
Our 'season' started March 15th, 2015 and seamlessly joined with the season that had started August 30, 2014. Soooo as we sat on the plane, one kid said 'geez, that is the longest season I can remember!' Yes, it has been almost two years non-stop with the guys in the house working. Today will be the first time they show up again - this time to tear down and take apart things so we can see the floors again and move the furniture back.
|How tired was I during the event? |
I actually wore my husband's shirt
one day by accident!
While there are many, many things I would change about the FIRST experience, the one massive good thing is that kids can set a near impossible goal and set themselves to work on it, doing extensive planning, coordinating and learning to deal with each other through massive ups and downs. There is no walking away, they learn to sacrifice and put their nose down to work. There is really nothing in the school experience that compares to it. The unit is never over and you got a B- on the report and immediately forget it. That same robot challenge is there for nine months to tackle and you are never done as your competition, as it whittles down, is also always improving and adding functionality as fast as you are.
We really saw the effect of this when the week before we had a chance to go on college tours and have our son ask questions about the engineering programs at some of the top programs in the country. He is only a sophomore and his questions were really sophisticated. At almost every college he had an opportunity to visit a few facility members that he sought out and had conversations about what he had been doing and how their programs aligned with his interests. For the few that I was present, I could see the faces and their responses and knew that the very tough robot experience had been worth it.
|The booths of each robot team in the pits. I just haven't been|
able to get to this level of crazy.
|Explaining the machine vision system|
|The Russian team (one dressed as the mascot) going over|
|Conferring before getting on the practice fields|
|An emergency repair only minutes before fielding has|
six kids with drills, saws, and other furious tools
They went through eight cycles like this. Eight significantly different robots, all based upon one general design we came up with based on the game. We left our original targets in the dust around version 4. If you had told me our robot would do everything on the field and more on Day 1, I would have laughed until I fell on the floor. That is the benefit of Agile, the process assumes that the market is not static and thus that your initial product requirements will have shifted during your development and thus allows points in the process to adjust for that and thus launch a product that meets new and unknown requirements from when the development started. It was funny as the parents on the team were often critical of some aspect of our design when compared to some competitor on the field who seemed to have a much more elegant system (usually more complicated) but as we moved up past the state level, they would come back and say 'ohhhhh' you designed that for anticipated defense in Super-Regionals finals or some other thing that we anticipated IF we got to a higher level. Those other 'elegant' systems dropped out at lower levels as they got caught in the more sophisticated play that happens at a tougher level that we had anticipated by having the kids watch videos of past Worlds final competitions.
|This is no Daddybot. If I was to touch it I|
would get my hands slapped.
So to come into Worlds for the first time ever and have our booth (which isn't really a booth as we haven't spent any time making a booth) be mobbed by teams we had watched on YouTube for years was really amazing. Usually a new team would be ignored and instead coaches were asking if we would be willing to give a software seminar this summer to their teams - from as far away as CO and FL! It just made the kids feel really good. They had improved their robot since Super-Regionals and added a second machine vision system to it. This is pretty amazing. The 'brains' of the robot is an Android phone and we mounted it so the back camera can see the field and the front camera can see the block hopper. The program switches between the two cameras during autonomous and takes pictures and then processes them to figure out if the beacon we need to press is red or blue and also checks the hopper to see if we have collected five (the limit before penalty points) cubes and then spits any extras out. And it does it efficiently so the program doesn't stop driving. No one collects cubes in autonomous. When we showed it on the practice fields the teams surrounding screamed 'No Way!' - including the local high school my son goes to. The four programmers who worked non-stop one weekend to develop that in a tag team felt really vindicated.
|Trying to butter up the FedEx group to give us a prize in their|
scavenger hunt competition. "find a fedex guy and take a funny pic" was
one of the many items on the list.
|Posing with the robot FedEx box for the scavenger hunt|
|The judged awards at the opera house with over 2000 of us|
in FTC - the CEOs of Raytheon, PTC, Rockwell-Collins
and Segway were on stage to hand out awards and give talks.
In the end, we are considered top 10 in the World. The 0.3% of the 5150 robot teams. If you had asked me if we would have gone to Worlds at the beginning of our season, I would have told you 50-50 at best, maybe. If you told me we would have been in the eliminations I would have laughed at the absurdity of it. If you would have told me that we could have been world champions this year but for a loose wire in a servo I would have known you were 'on something'. I am SOOOO proud of them - not because of their accomplishment but because of their character and humility. They are going around so proud and thrilled. Not mad and disappointed. As my son and many of them have said with incredulity on their faces - 'it's not often in your life you can say you are world class at anything'.
Of course they aren't getting many positive strokes at school - to everyone not in it they see that three of the top 10 teams in the world are in Lexington-Lincoln, so it seems expected. Yes - three of the four teams MA sent ended up in the eliminations. But that is just mind-blowing. 3 out of 5150 go to school together. No wonder we are exhausted. Our competition in our local league was world class. We have become friends with all of them (And funny enough - girls on both of the others are dating my guys now at the end of the season. ha ha.). It has taught them quite a bit about surrounding yourself with peers that are better than you and how it makes you better.
I am proud of other things. Our booth was full of coaches who wanted to get a download on the system. They would start asking us and we wouldn't be able to go very far before the robot would need to be turned over to show the internals. Something we coaches are just not allowed to do on our team - as the team is deathly afraid we (morons) will break something. So we would search for a kid and have them do it and take over. The coaches would look confused and then they would brighten up and realize that we weren't a daddybot and later effuse about how incrediably impressed they were with our kids because they were soooo competent. Daddybot is the term coined for a team where the coach is too involved in the build and software. That is something that FIRST needs to work on. There were far too many daddybots and they weren't being too shy about it, kids playing on their phones in the booth while the coaches fixed the robot. We can proudly tell anyone that everything we both know about robotics - we have learned from the kids. Our roles are 'feeding, driving, coordination, ordering, and slapping them upside the head'. ;-) Other words just as I told them two years ago - I am a credit card with wheels who will tell you when you screw up. That is why I am so proud of watching them go at the robot like the Apollo 13 engineers when it has to be fixed in 5 min or less and we stand out of their way. Daddybots don't tend to be at the very top, thank goodness. But they really don't have anyplace being in the top 5% either and should never advance.
The other thing that makes me so happy is the change in the kids. It was a very emotionally hard season. The growth in each of them is so visible and the Worlds experience just validated that immensely. Kids who engineer don't get positive strokes by society, it is the football jock who does. The concept by FIRST is to make it like the Final Four Basketball tourney so culture would change bit by bit. While the lower competitions are exciting, they all still seem like it is only noticed by the internal nerd community. But Worlds is so different. It started when we boarded the plane in Chicago bound for St. Louis and the pilot came on the intercom to wish the plane full of robot teams success at Worlds. Their faces lit up. The airport was ablaze with banners, welcome signage and people in special outfits welcoming us to the festival as if it was the NFL draft. There was no doubt that the robots were in town driving around St. Louis - the only thing missing was a banner off the arch! Even the FedEx (a sponsor) drop boxes were painted like robots. There were fleets of special Google Buses to take everyone between the venues ablaze with 'you are our tomorrow' type messages. Rock concerts and laser light shows for the events. The worlds largest companies were there in force - the innovation faire had companies like LEGO, Boeing, Google, Disney Imangineering, Fed Ex, Air Force, etc. with huge trade show booths special built for this event, courting the kids and giving them gifts. 47 colleges recruiting. I had my kids make special business cards and taught them how to network in the booths. Companies hosted competitions where teams could win as much as $10,000 for their team. Roving companies came into your booth and suggested further talks of sponsorship (we are soooo thrilled as all of this has been out of pocket!!). It really made an impression on them all. Even our pilot on the way home congratulated our team on their quarterfinal showing on the speaker - you should have seen my son's face....and I didn't tell them, a ref who was on the flight had.
So a big thank you to my customers for dealing with the intermittent blogs, late emails, and extra day to pack their package. Your support of my company allows me to also give my time to these kids. So I thank you for your patience to allow me to give them my patience. And thank you for following them - I got many text messages and emails during the last few weeks of support and I know many were wondering how they had done. I was just too sick to pen a blog.