For the past four to five months I have been working with the Apex Androids, FTC Robotics Team #3916. The Apex Androids are based out of Apex High School and are a brand new team or “rookie team” as they are referred to by FIRST. I started working with the team last December as they were getting close to their first competition. Since the team was brand new, they didn’t have any experience to draw on. A couple of the kids had done FLL in middle school but that was about it.
What started out as stopping by periodically to help and offer support, turned into a “mentoring” role. I really had a lot of fun and like the FTC program. The FTC program uses the NXT and many Technic elements but introduces the Tetrix system which is non-LEGO and mostly aluminum. There is much more of a mechanical aspect to FTC than there is with FLL which brings in another whole set of skills.
After a very hectic January and February, particularly February, the Apex Androids went to the Aggieland Championship at NC A&T in Greensboro, NC. The Androids got off to a rough start due to communications problems. Their robot didn’t move for the first two matches! In the end, they got it straightened out and performed reasonably well. They had dug themselves such a hole that the only way to move on was to get into an alliance which they did, being the last team picked with the assistance of the other Apex HS team, #3735.
The Alliance was quickly eliminated in the first round but the kids (and parents too) were all thrilled with how the day ended up. Particularly after how poorly it started. During the awards ceremony the Androids were stunned to win the prestigious Inspire Award and with it an invitation to the World Championships in Atlanta. Wow. Expecting the Robotics season to essentially be over after the Aggieland Championship, the Androids now had a whole new challenge ahead of them. In addition to improving their robot, the team and parents had to figure out how to raise enough money to get the team to Atlanta.
I have continued my involvement with the team, working with them 2-3 days a week, usually two afternoons after school and one day on the weekend. It all culminated in the trup to Atlanta last weekend. While the team didn’t place well, they had a great time and learned a lot. Many of the teams that did well have been around for a while and have quite a bit of experience to draw upon. The team is already speculating on what the challenge might be for next year. In the end it was a lot of work but a lot of fun and I expect to continue on with it.
I have been drifting a bit in the LEGO hobby, I just don’t have the drive, enthusiasm, or time to engage in the hobby as I once did. The CEO of Rockwell-Collins (who is a fantastic speaker) talked about how being at the FIRST Championships was rejuvenating for him. I felt much the same way. I had a great time and am ready to dig into it again. In fact, I expect to also get an FLL team started for my youngest daughter who has been dabbling with Mindstorms since the Androids have been coming to our house to work on their robot.
So while I don’t see myself doing much traditional building any more, I do expect to use my basement full of LEGO with an FTC and an FLL for the foreseeable future. I am already scouring for a hand me down FLL field so I can set it up at home!