Arcadia, California Team 867, Absolute Value or |AV| has been involved with FIRST robotics since our rookie year in the spring of 2002. While always being supported by both our school district (Arcadia Unified School District / superintendent Dr. Mimi Hennessy) and the Los Angeles Regional Occupation Program (ROP), our first 2 years were sponsored by NASA. The last 5 years the FIRST entry fees have been covered by AUSD and ROP has provided for the 2 daytime Intro to Robotics classes with Mr. Bill Chapman and the weekly evening Advanced Robotics class with Richard Fretz. In the fall the Advanced Robotics class participates in the annual JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) Invention Challenge. The class splits up into 3 or 4 teams and learns practices that they apply to the FIRST challenge in the spring (design cycle etc.). This fear, for the first time, one of our teams, led by Han Lin, also the leader of this year's animation team, built a Boe-bot controlled musical instrument that took first place at the JPL competition.
We usually have about 50 intro students and around 20 advanced. Our intro students learn the basics of robotics and build several different types of robots (Boe-bots, Vex and others). The advanced students compete in the JPL Invention Challenge and FIRST along with several other small projects. The advanced students are given access to the workshop and the large power tools not available to first-year students. We just took delivery of several large tools (metal lathe, milling machine, horizontal band saw) and are looking forward to learning how to utilize these tools for next year's FIRST robotics season.
We have several part-time mentors from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Two of them, Matthew_Heverly and Jaret_Matthews are part of JPL's robotics group: http://www-robotics.jpl.nasa.gov/people/ Peter Kim provided software/programming support while Leslie Paal provided design and implementation assistance this year. One of our student's father, Fritz Scmitt, was present almost every time we met during the build cycle. Rob Leri from the district Information Services made sure that we had a new, fast computer capable of handling the demands of this year's CAD and animation software. Last, but not least, Timothy Wong taught himself Inventor and was constantly measuring our robot as we added and removed items to make sure his CAD model reflected our robot Trinity 7' true self.
Comments from our animator Han Lin:
Idea: Well, the first idea that came to my mind was solar panel because it provides free energy. But I know that most of my competitors will use the same common idea or imagine a better one, so I spend the majority of my time thinking about how to use solar energy in the most efficient way. Rather than imagining something else innovative, I believed that the highest chance to get into the finals is to make our animation stand out from the rest in using the most common idea. So, I did some research on solar panels about how they function and how they conserve energy. I actually bought a solar panel to see how it really works. Then I listed the occasions when we need energy the most but couldn't get them. Then, integrate the use of solar panels into these sort of situations in the most efficient, easiest ways, and that was how I came out with idea of solar canvas. Learning the software: I attended Montecito Fine Arts College of Design for about 1 to 2 years, so I have experiences in the field of 3D modeling, animation, and rendering. Frankly, I was one of the youngest students taking 3D studio courses in that college, and my skills was above class average, so I felt I was ready to take on the challenge of the Autodesk Visualization Competition. However, 3Ds Max was not the software I used in that college, so I have learn 3Ds Max from scratch by myself. But already having experiences in Monctecito, learning this software was not difficult. In order to produce an animation that stands out, basic tutorials were not sufficient. I went to sites like youtube.com or google.com to search for advanced or intermediate tutorials. Learning these tutorials was one of the hardest steps because they always use different versions of 3Ds Max. And numerous times, my computer was infected with viruses and pop-up adds from searching for these tutorials. Time: I tried to use Vray, a rendering tool for 3Ds Max, to render the whole animation, but it took too long considering the deadline was 3 days away. But even with the default rendering, it took about 30 hours to render. And the worse thing is, the computers tend to freeze all the time, and we have to change the rendering options and render again and again. So far, it was the idea that took the longest to come up with. Learning the program and making the animation were much shorter compared to the time period we have to come up with the idea. Total time to produce the animation was about two months, and just the idea took about one and a half month. The total work time on the video was definitely at least 60 hours(not including rendering & sleep). Teamwork(Credit): - My mentor, Mr. Fretz, helped me the most. If he had not informed me about this competition, I would not have entered or even know this had existed. Also, he gave me suggestions correct the animation and the storyboard. - Kanon Shiu, Shaun Liyange, and Albert Lo had helped me pick the background music for the video. However, due to the short time we had, we were not able to obtain a consent from the author of the music. - Michael Wu, Jonathan Chien., and Bob Zou had helped me on constructing the base for the idea. - Peter Krogen and Tim Wong guided me through the first few steps of how to use the software. - Peter Bai (legal name: Linhan Bai), although he wasn't in the robotics class, he helped me put the animation together and made it into a video. The voice in the animation was also his voice. Ugly/funny/lucky part: It was really funny how we won the national competition (including Europe, Southern America, and Canada), and did not even win the LA Regional. Guess we're really lucky that the judges liked our idea. I've heard that all the finalists went to the award ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia, and we were the only team who did not show up. Entering the Adv. Robotics Class was probably the best choice I've made in my whole school life.