In 2010, my friend Naman Bharadwaj and I founded the Acton Robotics Team to foster our interests in robotics in high school. Together, he and I created a team to compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) national robotics competition. The competition consists of a different challenge each year involving balls, hoops, tubes, or the like, played by remotely controlled robots on a 12' × 12' field in teams of two against two. There are many different regional competitions around the country, the top teams of which advance to the state and national levels. In our first year, our team placed in the top ten in the Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire regional competition and won the top design award our second year. Our Acton Robotics Team, or Team 3938, still competes today and is a highly respected team of robotics engineers.
The challenge in our first year involved shooting whiffle balls into elevated baskets. Because we were starting from scratch, we began by securing sponsorships and fundraising by selling small toy robots called Hexbugs. We were also very fortunate to be funded by iRobot and Raytheon. By Christmastime, we were able to purchase the kit and get started building our robot.
We used a combination of Tetrix, which is a construction system of aluminum channels and bolts, and Lego to build our robot. We used an innovative technique to align our robot with the goal using infrared sensors and ended up placing 9th out of the 30 teams who participated in the Pathfinder Regional Competition.
After the competition, we took initiative in our hometown and performed demonstrations for young children at our local Science Discovery Museum and town library to promote robotics.
The following year, we entered the regional competition again with a different robot. That year, the challenge involved picking up tubes and placing them into moving containers. Once again we employed an innovative design, and actually ended up winning a PTC Design Award.
We had a chance to present our robot to Raytheon, and impressed their design team with our novel approach to the problems faced in the challenge.