We had an amazing experience at the Gwinnett Competition last weekend and had fun making memories with our PCH friends! Throughout the competition, our robot - Astro - did especially well placing cones on the grid and consistently balancing on the charging station. The other PCH teams were formidable forces, though, and we were ranked 5th by the end of the qualification matches.
A special shout out to our alliance captains, FRC 1771, for picking us to be a part of their alliance! Another shout out to FRC 2415 for being AMAZING alliance partners! Our final 2 matches during play-offs were intense, and we couldn't have secured that blue banner without our alliance's teamwork.
In addition to being a District Competition Winner, we were thrilled to receive these awards:
- Industrial Design Award
- Deans List Semi Finalist (Maia P.)
- Woodie Flowers Nominee (Brandon King)
From our drive team and pit crews who worked tirelessly, to our amazing scouts who analyzed a ton of data, to our team members who volunteered to help keep the event running smoothly, to everyone who cheered us on in the stands and at home - THANK YOU!
FIRST Robotics is home to a few initiatives focused on uplifting females pursuing STEM, most prominently being ‘FIRST #LikeAGirl’ and ‘LadiesFIRST. Programs like the ones just highlighted are imperative to allow women interested in STEM the support they require as their journeys past FIRST and highschool ensue. However, while idyllically apt– and an amazing look to the public–, how many of these programs can effectively alter long-time, homologous identity perceptors or historically binary societal ebbs and flows? Are women set up with the proverbial tools to succeed in these male-dominated fields, or are they unintentionally being set up to fail?
In modern times, Sociologists have pondered a notion deemed the Leaky Pipeline Phenomenon, which explores the longevity of women pursuing STEM past their vocational years whether or not they are equipped with words of encouragement rather than strategy. The proportion of women in the STEM occupational fields has decreased continuously through the educational and vocational tracks, leading scholars to use the metaphor of a leaking pipeline. Women navigating through STEM-based career pathways drop out at higher rates along the way, as opposed to men going to school in the same field, resulting in a much smaller proportion of women at the end of the pipeline. A published paper by the Magazine of Empirical Research in Vocational Education and Training emphasized the high dropout rate of female STEM students in college, attributing this as being a direct symptom of the aforementioned phenomenon. Women drop out due to various factors such as career mismatch, sex-based discouragement and identity-centered incongruence. Career mismatch, specifically, refers to the tendency of women to be overqualified for the careers that they end up in, likely due to their reluctance to enter jobs that are inconsistent with typical gender roles. That is, women who receive STEM degrees are not as likely to choose STEM careers– juxtaposed to males with comparable STEM degrees. As an additional result of career mismatch, this concept is symbolic of a positive feedback loop where women continue to serve jobs below their abilities, while their male counterparts reach higher leadership positions. This then amplifies the amount of women who feel a lack of self-confidence in their professional skills, a deficit in assertiveness on interactions with male counterparts, as well as a persistent pressure to assimilate to male culture.
Look around– metaphorically, of course… When you see a woman in a higher position or even an unconventional role in engineering within FRC, let’s say… working in their team pit…, do you feel surprised, intrigued, or even merely recognize the implications of one taking a second to actively notice a feminine entity engaging in something traditionally done by masculine figures? Social role theory argues that societally shared beliefs on female or male ‘roles’ are preserved through “psychological processes that stabilize these societal practices by making them seem natural and inevitable to members of the society” (Markova, et. al., 2016). This is further evident when one looks at how only select women are championed for their work in male-dominated fields, and how ‘we’ would find it “out of place” to see a female with a yellow hard hat and a neon vest clocking into the construction site. Putting emphasis on women in STEM is of utmost importance, however, recognizing why much of society feels the need to apply this emphasis is even more integral. As, despite increasing numbers of women in science and engineering fields, this fact alone does not ensure any improved conditions for women’s real careers. Even women with a higher position in their respective fields have reported a lack of self-confidence to advocate for other, younger females within their departments. Thus, despite the increasing number of female students in gender-atypical study fields, “organizational structure within units, and the divisions they engender, continue to isolate women” (Markova, et. al., 2016).
Despite the progress that is perceived at competitions, such as a female-operated Drive Team or female Programming and Mechanical Leads, there is still ample work to be done in the field of STEM to have these women appear as less of a show-stopper for being in leadership and more of a normalized construct within STEM fields. As notably theorized by West and Zimmerman, the scientists who constructed the idea of ‘doing gender’, “gender is not a set of traits, nor a variable, nor a role, but the product of social doings of some sort.” We, as a people, prescribe these social doings, meaning we also have the power to alter them and to dismantle them to an extent that lets each sex feel comfortable in the other’s historically-designated fields of work. Women should not have to ‘act like men’ in order to be assertive and assume leadership positions in STEM fields, nor should women have to go out of their way to advocate their worth. Women, as well as men, possess the innate abilities to lead or to serve, but, as a symptom of gender-roles, this autonomy has been somewhat stripped away from the sexes.
But what can we do, even amongst FIRST Robotics members, to curve the narrative towards true acceptance over a figurehead status, and to patch up the leaky pipes? Firstly, companies and educational institutes need to hold themselves accountable, looking at their gender-based statistics or how they may have failed women as a symptom of their own ignorance. Companies should be challenged more to actively combat sexism and gender discrimination, effectively creating an inclusive working environment for young women in gender-atypical careers. Moving through this vein of thought, there are a few introductory tasks that may produce far more equitable working environments for women, beyond the current structure:
Makarova, E., Aeschlimann, B. & Herzog, W. Why is the pipeline leaking? Experiences of young women in STEM vocational education and training and their adjustment strategies. Empirical Res Voc Ed Train 8, 2 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40461-016-0027-y
“STEM Gender Equity: Supporting Girls in STEM Without Diminishing Boys.” FIRST, 5 Feb. 2020, www.firstinspires.org/community/inspire/stem-gender-equity.
Figure 1. UNSCO Institute of Statistics estimates based on July, 2015
From the roar of the cheering crowd, to the scramble and stress of last-second robot fine-tuning in the pits, to the laser-focus of the drive team, to the fun of dancing in-between matches - There is nothing like the first competition of the season. Especially if you are a new FRC team member.
Twelve of our CSP team members heightened their FIRST experience by being an integral part of the competition as volunteers in field reset, queuing, safety glasses distribution, and AV support. Not only were they happy to assist our hosts by filling these important roles. our team members also learned a lot from their experiences. In today's post, we will share their stories.
"Volunteering at the comp was a joyful and thrilling experience. I very much enjoyed seeing the robots and the matches up close, which was was very exciting and fun. I was able to learn a lot about the robots, the teams, and the game itself such as the design and the ability to score if the robots, as well as crucial rules about the game." ~ Yash P.
"Working as a pit reset volunteer was very fun and exciting. It felt like being part of an F1 pit team in the sense that everyone had a role that they tried to achieve as efficiently as possible in order to start the next match. In addition, being able to see the matches from the field was very entertaining and a completely different experience from watching in the stands." ~ Micheal R.
We started the week 1 competition in Albany with Astro, our 2023 robot, as a push bot. After overcoming electrical issues and making programming adjustments, we persevered to become the 3rd-highest scoring robot. CSP 4188 was chosen as a part of the finalist, second-seed, alliance along with @mechbulls as our alliance captains and @camdenwildbots as our partners.
Thanks to our entire team for working together - from our pit and electrical crews who tirelessly worked on our robot's arm, to our programmers and drive team who powered through stressful matches, to our scouts who scrutinized over 8,000 data points collected over the weekend!
Thanks also to team members cheering from the stands and volunteering on the field - We were #ChargedUp!
On top of being a part of the finalist alliance, we were also awarded the Engineering Inspiration Award through the tireless work of our awards and outreach teams! To round-out our winning streak, team member Arha G. was chosen as a Dean's List semi-finalist. We can't wait for our next competition!
Documentation and Branding are undeniable and deeply important aspects within any large-scale, visually-centered competition. Being able to receive recognition for your team's name and image is a top goal for a lot of teams. This phenomenon became apparent to me as I made my way through the dozens of aisles of 'pits' at Worlds (top championship for FIRST) in 2022. I was immediately drawn to the teams with tall, vibrant signage or those iconic, well-known teams with over-the-top accessories and names slapped onto everything from necklaces to first-aid-kits. It was clear that, aside from winning matches, getting your name out there was top priority.
Seeing how Columbus Space Program has tried to stand apart from other teams by adopting our unique shade of green, we naturally have extended this importance of visibility to Media. Our Media team has been appraised as its own independent segment of the team, with a selective number of CSP members fully devoted to media, representing our image in a refined, yet authentic setting.
The core facets of our Media team begin with pictures and graphic design. Pictures speak for themselves– real-time, raw imagery of how our team operates. Graphic design, however, is more complex, its roots running deep throughout the foundation of CSP. Graphic design, by default, entails the logos for teams, flags, and sub-programs meant to represent the impetus of our team. Signs are another staple to us and border the outskirts of our pit at competitions– aptly deemed Pit Signs. Having created a smooth system of production for these facets, CSP’s media team decided to heavily ramp up its diversification and level of content creation. In the last year, we have unveiled CAD With Connor, a YouTube series by our skilled, remote designer instructing aspiring CAD-ers on how to become proficient with design. Safety Tip of the Week is another video-based product, which appears on our Instagram (@frcteam4188) with the purpose of educating viewers on how to take the best precaution when around machinery. As a result. video-production made its way starkly past the confinements of just reveal or chairman's videos. And, in large part, CSP owes this transition to our two-year FRC veteran, Sidhant D.
Sidhant's transition into Media can be described as a natural, puzzle-piece-like fit to the team. In the 2021-2022 build season, Sidhant recalls that he “was kinda running around mostly doing ‘programming’ amongst other things, but nothing fairly consistent.” However, in late February of 2022, he overheard another member, Jay, storyboarding a robot reveal. Later, Jay asked him for assistance with the video via Discord since Sidhant had previously mentioned having experience with video editing on Premiere Pro. After some shadowing and toying around with different video-editing concepts, Sidhant’s work was recognized by our head Coach at the time, who avidly praised his input on the robot-reveal video, swiftly beginning to include Sidhant in more media-centered conversations. Sidhant recalls how, as a result of this praise, he “committed to working on media from there [on] as some people liked [my work] which was really cool to see.”
Sidhant has made significant contributions to our team in such a short amount of time. For one, CSP’s initiative to rebrand was carried out in large part by him through the redesign of the Columbus Space Program Flag and all FTC logos. In response to his physically issued work, Sidhant said it was surreal “seeing the actual flag in real life...[or] how the graphics I create on my computer can turn out.” Sidhant’s work indisputably reveals his natural draw towards creation.
In gaining more insight from Sidhant on technique, he advised others interested in media to “keep everything organized by making several files for different footage, graphics, and other factors,” as this minimizes unnecessary stress in the future. He describes his personal process of graphic design as being differentiated into clear steps. He mentions that he sketches out his rudimentary ideas “in Photoshop and research[es] reference images for inspiration” but that, as time draws on, “the final product always ends up being something very different.” Nonetheless, amongst the trial and error often comes new understanding. After all, experimentation is essential to breeding systematic steps for more a efficient and progressive output.
Sidhant's contributions amongst the general CSP media team's work divulges that our purpose and personality as a team is not void of a conversation-- we as integrated, yet self-sufficient individuals are recognized through these media efforts. We are more than the robot that races around the field with ‘4188’ on its sides-- that is but our surface.
Computer-Aided Manufacturing, or CAM, is computer-controlled machinery integrated with software such as AutoCAD or Fusion360. The purpose of CAM is to automate the usual manufacturing process, using pre-programmed toolpaths to etch out a desired design on various raw materials– polycarb, aluminum, etc. CAM uses a sort of language converter produced from digitized data, called post-processing, that enables designs made in CAD, and then transferred to CAM, to be tangibly manufactured via a CNC machine (Computer Numerical Control). The CNC machine at Columbus Space Program’s HeadQuarters is a long metal table with a rigid arm jutting out over it, which controls the physical toolpaths. Accentured along the table are deep grooves from past cuttings and dozens upon dozens of unruly aluminum shavings to be swept up at the end of each day. Also attached to the router is a small table with the computer that inputs information taken from CAD to CAM, telling the machine its tasks.
But, of course, none of this manufacturing would be able to happen without immensely focused human labor. CSP began to CNC in 2018 initially, but the bulk of the work done with it surfaced after COVID in late 2021 by our FTC team, Ecliptic. However, with no one professionally trained in operating it, the CNC router posed a huge learning curve, begging the question of whether it was worth relearning or not. Of course we can’t just waste machinery, but what also solidified the decision was the team constantly running into problems of non-precise holes and cuts. CAM and CNC would ensure custom boreholes and depressions that were near-perfect.
CAM-ing and CNC-ing has undoubtedly allowed our team to test its creative limits, going beyond what was previously expected of us as well as guaranteeing more prototypes in less time. Actually, all parts now and in the future are intended to be completely CNC-ed if they are not electrically based. To make the longevity of CAM possible, we are training four rookies to be able to confidently use both the software and machinery.
At all times in our history, CSP has intended to uplift innovation and independency, whether it be personal or creative expression (respectively), learning how to troubleshoot efficiently, or forming immersive and varied experiences for rookies (welding, soldering, graphic design etc.). CAM and the CNC router are each an extension of this concept, needing machinists to interpret technical drawings as well as sequence and refine software operations. CSP hopes to continue using CAM and CNC to increase the smoothness of workflow and the design-to-final-fabrication transition.
When each of us took interest in or joined robotics, we relied on the advice and knowledge of others– whether that be in the form of YouTube videos, Reddit subposts, friends, or from current and past members of robotics. We all had a starting point, and none of us arrived where we are today without help. And, at Columbus Space Program, we make a point to never forget this.
One of FIRST’s Core Values is “outreach.” Every team handles outreach differently and establishes opportunities based on their values and causes. But still… How can one characterize outreach?
Outreach is defined as any unpaid volunteer work done by members of any team with the established purpose of enriching the surrounding community. CSP believes that no team should be barred from reaching their potential solely due to a lack of funds or resources, which is why, each season, we open up our practice field for other teams in Georgia to use if they would like to.
Through the eleven FLL (First Lego League, K-8) and FTC (First Tech Challenge, 9-12) teams we mentor within Georgia, we are not only able to keep an eye on how the next generation of robotics progresses, we also use our personal skills to funnel knowledge back into this community– of which we were all once a part. Typically, when we mentor, we assign each member of a team to one specific ‘skills’ category– design/build, research/innovation programming, and awards. The FLL or FTC members are then sorted to one or more of the categories based on their own, personal interests. As student-mentors, we tailor our mentoring to the FLL or FTC teams’ preferences (individual learning, small-group learning or rotational learning).
Current FLL member, Milan, exclaimed: “my favorite part of robotics is block coding. It’s a little hard at first, but it was cool to guess how to fix things and make it work.” (far left image)
Current FLL member, Sai, emphasized that “organization in the build space is key to an organized and efficient team… We learned the hard way this year that we needed to section off our team into groups, lining up tasks like a queue, but mentoring has made it a lot easier to do so.” (far right image).
With mentoring, CSP’s goal is to kick-start a cyclical learning process that sticks around throughout the years. Creating a solid, sustainable foundation allows these teams we have worked with to eventually operate independently, as with the FLL team at Richard’s Middle School we have mentored over the past few years. What’s more is our reach past FLL mentoring and into FTC. Students join robotics at different times in their lives and, even if they have experience, they may be moving to a school that does not possess an established team. This is why, in an effort to increase the longevity of Georgia’s robotics programs, CSP aims to continue mentoring throughout the levels of robotics– FLL all the way to FRC.
This was the week to roll out the red carpet - for our playing field! As exciting as it is to design, manufacture, and build a robot, teams also need a space to test their prototypes. Thanks to generous support from our sponsors, CSP 4188 was able to spend week 2 of our build season doing just that on our full-size field.
It has been a long journey for us to reach this destination. CSP 4188 began as a rookie team in 2009. We had no dedicated space to meet, rotating from various classrooms across our school district. We started over in 2012 as a community team, still without a permanent home. In 2019, the Muscogee County School District (MCSD) graciously provided us with the Butler Steam Center, a space large enough to accommodate our machines, 3-D printers, tools, and manufacturing equipment. This space also houses one of four full-size fields in the state, which is part of Georgia FIRST’s “DE” initiative.
DE fields include complete sets of field elements as well as space to compete and practice. As a DE field, CSP 4188 invites FRC and FTC teams across the Peachtree District to join us for practice scrimmages, utilize our equipment, and receive technical training from our coaches, mentors, and members. The goal of the DE initiative is to help more teams gain the skills and practice needed to be invited to the FIRST competition (and, hopefully, compete on the championship field).
Maintaining our field would not be possible without our sponsors. We are incredibly thankful for the MCSD and Superintendent Dr. David Lewis for allowing us this space to work, play, practice, and compete. We are also thankful for the support of Columbus’ Char Broil company. Since 2018, volunteers from this company have built our entire practice field and helped us assemble it. Stay tuned to our blog to see more photos of our field being #ChargedUp!
Kickoff. Every FRC team’s deciding moment, the moment that announces the new game and determines what the team must do to win. With our team composed of half rookies, kickoff also happened to be one of the most exciting and important team bonding experiences that we’d ever experienced.
The week before kickoff, our team had conducted a practice kickoff, basing it off of 2018’s game, FIRST PowerUP! We split everyone into randomized groups with veterans and rookies alike, all of whom had different areas of expertise. Each group convened, shy at first, unwilling to talk until a veteran team member started insightful conversations about robot strategy, robot design, or even better, cats. Through the practice kickoff experience, we bonded as a team, providing a much-needed foundation for the upcoming season.
On the day of kickoff, we split into the same randomized groups, each group now more sure of how to properly strategize an FRC robot. With proper team bonding, more creative questions were asked, ensuring that we created the perfect strategy for the upcoming season.
“What do we use the sustainability bonus for?”
“Is it legal for us to have an arm that extends out of both sides of the robot?”
“Is it legal to have a circular chassis?”
As soon as we’d decided on a strategy, we picked the subsystems we wanted to work on, splitting up into IPTs (integrated processing teams), such as drive train, arm, or claw. We immediately began prototyping, each IPT thoroughly focused on ensuring that the robot gets built in a timely and safe manner. Following kickoff everyone was at practices, dedicating every second of their time to building this robot; CADing and programming at school, home, and robotics; and stalking other team’s prototypes and robots to ensure that what we planned to do had the potential to be effective. Kickoff week was more fun than we could’ve imagined, giving us the opportunity to become more well-rounded as individuals, and as a team.