Team 4504 is thrilled to join the #openalliance for the 2023 FIRST Robotics season! Blount County Robotics (a.k.a. BC Robotics) is a community team from Blount County, TN dedicated to helping spread STEM skills to students. Our team takes students from multiple schools and school systems from our area, as we hope to attract and unify students from a variety of backgrounds.
Recently, our team was incredibly fortunate to open a new shop in the new Don and Steve West Workforce Development Center at Pellissippi State Community College. It is our hope that this new space will provide our team with the opportunity to develop our skills and continue to grow our impact in our community. Without the generous support of Pellissippi and our other sponsors, we would not have the ability to create the experiences we do each year. We are incredibly grateful for their support.
For the 2023 Build Season, Team 4504 is excited to announce that they will be attending two regional competitions: the Miami Valley Regional and the Smoky Mountain Regional. Smoky Mountain Regional is a regional that Team 4504 has attended every year without fail, and they are looking forward to going again in 2023. Miami Valley Regional, however, is a new regional that Team 4504 is looking forward to attending for the first time. Blount County Robotics is looking forward to the challenge of competing at a new regional and the experience of visiting a new location. We are also looking forward to the opportunity to make new connections with other teams and to learn from the unique perspectives of teams from other regions. Team 4504 is confident that their preparations and hard work will ensure that they are well-equipped for their first venture to the Miami Valley Regional.
We have never participated in a formal open build season. However, we are excited to work with the Open Alliance to foster a sense of inter-team community and cooperation. We plan to use the Open Alliance to help us with our designs, builds, strategies, and programing capabilities. We also hope to use the alliance to build relationships with teams from other areas, and to foster a sense of collaboration and mutual respect. We are looking forward to taking part in the Open Alliance and being part of the larger FIRST Robotics community.
Team 4504 is very much looking forward to the 2023 FIRST Robotics season and we are excited to be part of the Open Alliance. We are eager to collaborate with other teams from around the world and share our experiences and knowledge. We feel that it is a great opportunity to learn from each other and create relationships with teams from different parts of the world.
If any teams have any questions about our team, we would be more than happy to answer them. We are always open to new ideas and would love to hear from other teams and look forward to working together and making the 2023 FIRST Robotics season one for the books.
With much anticipation,
Blount County Robotics
Hello #openalliance! With the launch of the 2023 FRC season rapidly approaching, the BC Robotics Team wanted to share what we have done this past preseason with you. From moving into a new space to training a new generation of FRC students, our preseason has been one for the books. Read along as we take you along our journey into the 2023 year.
A New Home
For the 2023 season, Team 4504 is proud to have the support of Pellissippi State Community College. They generously contributed a workshop space for us, which included a space for us to set up our fabrication shop as well as a potential prototype match field for practice/simulation. After we formally moved into our space, we started organizing it into a fluid environment, where sub-teams and members could navigate and work efficiently. The spacious room and closet is a breath of fresh air, and the abundance of natural and artificial lighting just adds a sense of industrial professionalism to the place that we once lacked.
In addition, Pellissippi allows us to use some of their meeting rooms for our quieter and computer-oriented sub-teams (such as design and programming). We also use this space to kickoff meetings, organize the team together, and to have a place where we can relax and socialize.
This preseason, the team also pushed for a new leadership structure. The mentors and the students both wanted to transition towards a more student-led organization, where the students would be primarily leading and guiding the design/creative decisions with the help of the adult mentors.
We believed this model would work well to accommodate the student-led structure that the team wanted. This reorganization has allowed our team to create a unique workflow that suits our team’s needs, and gives more responsibility and credence to our high school members.
This year, the team gained [TK] members, with students coming from a variety of different schools around the county. These included William Blount High School, Maryville High School, Alcoa High School, Homeschoolers, and more. Recruitment in the off-season was led by our Impact Sub-Team (more on them later), who pushed for community engagement and marketing tactics in order to attract a new generation of FRC competitors. We hope to see continued membership growth as the season progresses and as the team continues to develop into further years.
A strong mechanical team is the backbone of any robotics team. They are the “muscle” of 4504, cutting sheet metal and plywood, and frantically fixing the robot at competition. It takes a certain level of grit to troubleshoot an issue with a gearbox until 10 PM, and 4504’s Mechanical Team has just that. As such, it is always important to grow and expand the next generation of mechanical students for the team. This was the primary goal of the Mechanical Sub-team for the off-season, as they focused on student development of the most essential skills to build, manufacture, and repair a robot.
The Mechanical Sub-team worked on basic tool training with the rookies, teaching them how to use impact drills, bandsaws, and a variety of other mechanical tools. They learned essential workshop skills such as filing, tapping, and general shop/tool safety (led by the Safety Sub-Team). Mechanical eventually brought all of these manufacturing skills and let the rookie members construct basic parts.
After this was done, the Mechanical Sub-team worked towards building a mockup shooter. Although the shooter was not successful, the sub-team learned a valuable lesson: it is better to “fail” sooner rather than later. Problems are inevitable when building a robot, and it is better to encounter those problems in the first week of prototyping rather than face them on competition day.
Electricity is the lifeblood of a robot. Our electrical technicians are vital in bringing all the different components together; the code, the motors, the mechanics all join together harmoniously with the power of electricity. This year, the Electrical Sub-team had an unprecedented amount of interest from our new members, leading to our Electrical Sub-Team having to train our newbies up in basic electrical design.
The goal for Electrical was to teach all of its current and new members the complete electrical system and how to properly build one using the correct methods. Last season, the Electrical Sub-team faced an issue where only the Sub-team lead knew how to properly build and troubleshoot the electrical system. Due to this, the team lead decided for the offseason plan for Electrical became training all the sub-team’s members to have an effective sub-team. The sub-team lead created lesson plans (which can be accessed below) and taught the new members. The training resulted in Electrical members now fully understanding the electrical system, having the ability to help build the electrical system by using the correct tools and connectors for each part, and being able to properly wire the robot using the skills they have learned. But because of the limited number of meetings the team had during the offseason, members were taught only an overview of the pneumatics system. At the end of the training session, the electrical sub-team was able to create an electrical system on a chassis (ESOC) with limited help from the sub-team lead. This training has prepared the electrical subteam for the upcoming season.
Electrical Sub-Team Lesson Plans:
Programming is the brains behind the robot. This year, our programming sub-team is dedicated to teaching its members not only how Python works but also how the robot works. Programming started this offseason by preparing our new members with the basic programming skills they will need to be successful throughout the build season. From “hello world” to drive train basics, our new members are now learning how to become Robot.py programmers.
Our programming sub-team hopes that during our build season they can further improve our robot’s autonomous period to be more efficient and successful. Programming also wants to consider trying out both tank and arcade drive this year. Their biggest hope for this year is that all the members of the programming sub-team will become capable programmers who can use their extremely valuable skills not only in the FIRST Robotics community but also in their future lives and career paths. The programming sub-team plans to post their code and ideas throughout the build season to Chief Delphi over the course of our first season as a part of the Open Alliance community.
Design is one of the most essential parts of any engineering effort, and our design sub-team is no different. The Design Sub-team is tasked with jointly leading the prototyping efforts with Mechanical and Electrical, as well as producing and documenting CAD and drawing files for our designs, parts, etc. This is the first year for Design to play a direct role in the prototyping and creation of the robot; in the past, 4504 has not formally had a design team lead in these areas. We hope that the inclusion of the design team can continue to improve the efficiency and workflow of our team’s processes.
Design decided to switch to using Onshape this season, so the main focus of Design this offseason was to train all of our sub-team members Onshape. The switch to the new CAD software was easy and all our members quickly caught on. Design also focused on using different resources to make CAD much more efficient. Our Design Sub-team was very lucky to have Chris from Team 2393, who works with their CAD team, meet with us. During the meeting, the sub-team discussed what featurescripts are, how to install them, and applying them, as well as how to organize parts and assemblies and the process to number them. The use of calculators to reduce the guesswork of a lot of systems. A large portion of the time was spent going over design choices: lightening parts, keeping things practical, and what to purchase versus manufacture. Design looked at countless other powerhouse teams and their approaches to that year’s challenges. With the information Chris provided for our team, we were able to start properly getting ready for the upcoming season. We spent the remainder of our time planning out the path Design will take during the season and researching on ways to make Design well integrated into our team.
This year, we launched our Impact sub-team. The newly developed sub-team is strongly dedicated to creating cohesion within BC Robotics and bringing Team 4504 to our community. Our Impact Team is also going to be responsible for contending for the Impact Award and is looking forward to partaking in a new challenge at competition.
The impact team started off the year by optimizing our new team organization and communication capabilities. Impact hopes to have a task manager program up and running shortly after kickoff through ClickUp, a task-manager application to optimize workflow. They also have worked in the off-season to develop team synergy and communication skills within the team through team-building exercises and fun team events like our Holiday Party. Impact also brought BC Robotics to the community by volunteering to teach kids STEM projects at our local library. This is a new aspect of robotics that our team is ecstatic to venture into. We cannot wait to teach future generations of young bright minds to love STEM. The team members have also made contacts to develop relationships with sponsors and businesses in the area. Once build season starts, the impact team plans to advertise Team 4504 further to get any new members who could not join last semester. Impact also plans to keep close contact with the local community and the FIRST community throughout the season, carefully documenting all the progress the team makes. This has been an unprecedented season for the impact sub-team, and we hope to continue this through the year!
Here are some articles from our local new source that document our involvement:
This year, our safety sub-team has been hard at work making our new shop a safe space for all our members to work in. Safety started off the year strong by sending out safety forms and collecting important safety information from all of our members. Safety also gave presentations and short safety quizzes to ensure that every person in our shop knows how to handle tools from saws to soldering irons safely. First aid stations have also been set up in the shop, and our members have also been taught how to use the new safety features built into our space at Pellissippi. This sub-team plans to closely monitor the goings-on across our shop and can’t wait for an amazing season!
With the launch of the season right around the corner, we would like to thank all of our sponsors and community for getting us to where we are today. It would not be possible to have the resources we do without their support. But, most of all, we would like to extend our thanks to the FRC community, to the teams, mentors, students, FIRST organization, #openalliance, volunteers, and the several other thousands of supporters that offer their hard work to creating the world’s premiere STEM competition. As Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST Robotics, said, “FIRST is more than just robots.” Without you, there would be no BC Robotics, and no community of loving and intelligent individuals working for a better world.
We look forward to competing with you all in this 2023 season. Best of luck!
Our first week has just come to a close and we would like to update everyone on the #first:open-alliance/#openalliance on the progress that BC Robotics has made. This week consisted of general preparation for the season from the team as we discussed and researched strategies, (sub)systems, and designs we wanted to incorporate into the 2023 season. After our kickoff, members quickly came up with intuitive designs to tackle this year’s challenge. As such, the focus of this post will be on the prototyping we have begun and are planning to develop, although we will include any significant progress that our sub-teams achieved for documentation.
One of our objectives this season is to optimize the workflow for the entire team so that we can efficiently create and test our robot. One of the ways we have opted to do this is through a physical Kanban board. On the board there are several categories for the status on tasks, as well as a color-coded system to denote what sub-team is responsible for achieving said tasks. We update progress for our Kanban board every day on a dedicated Discord channel to ensure that people not at the shop can stay updated.
Field and Game Piece Mockup
We began designing a mockup of the field as well. Our team cut out and completely finished the loading station. They started working on the cube station and the cone station. The charging station is posing a challenge for our team, but they have created the top layer of it and are working on the math for the balancing mechanism on the charging station.
The design sub-team started out by defining the optimal frame perimeter for the tasks ahead. We initially went with a 30” X 30” frame but decided it would be too wide when fitting three robots on the 96” Charger. We have settled for a 25” X 30” frame perimeter which leaves us enough room for the 4 six-inch wheels that will be on each side rail. 6” wheels, rather than 4”, will reduce our chances of getting banked when climbing the Charger ramp.
Each side of this West Coast Drivetrain will contain two conventional wheels in the center and two Omni wheels on the outside to reduce drag when tank steering. There are two supports running down the inside of the chassis, but they are stopped early to allow extra room for any future intake system. There is a 1” X 1” rail running around the perimeter to attach the bumpers, battery holder, and any additional subsystems.
Our mechanical team was focused on getting a chassis built and ready for prototyping and other sub-teams:
A conventional pinching claw and a motorized compliant claw seem to be the most common end effector in virtually all Ri3D builds. Due to their relative simplicity, we will be rapidly prototyping these mechanisms until we feel it is optimized to fit our robot. Although the lack of game pieces has made it hard to determine measurements, we have begun to design several contenders.
We are also playing around with the idea of a deployable intake similar to those of the 2022 season which would be a prerequisite to the end effectors previously mentioned. A deployable intake would increase versatility with the ability to pick up several cone orientations with little time loss. It would also increase the speed of cone pickup because of the broader region it can cover. We designed a four-bar linkage that would attach to pneumatic cylinders and articulate out and in front of the bumper to scoop up the nose of a cone. This model uses twelve of the 4” 40A compliant wheels mounted to two ½” Hex shafts. We have not yet determined the motors and motor mountings.
Pneumatic Gravity Grabber
One of the prototypes we developed was a Pneumatic Gravity Grabber, or PGG for short. Using the frame of the Claw prototype, we attached a churro with a free rotating gripper onto each of the claw’s pads to see if we can get the cones to reorientate themselves. We realized that the cones were hitting the arm of the claw. We are now redesigning the PGG to fix that issue.
This season’s game also indicates a strong need for an elevator system to move the game pieces into their appropriate places to maximize scoring. As such, Team 4504 opted to work on one. Any elevator system will have to be incorporated with our intake mechanisms.
We are using the Thrifty Elevator Kit for vertical movement. As of now, there are three main configurations: completely vertical, fixed slanted, or pivoting elevator. A vertical elevator is mostly out of the question due to the necessity of an extremely long articulating arm. Therefore, we will most likely design and prototype both systems.
This week, the programming sub-team worked to upload our 2022 code to an old prototype (pizza) bot and to make sure that the code was uploading properly to the RoboRIO, which they just reimaged with the 2023 image. This will allow our drivers to start practicing and will help our programmers upload code to the 2023 bot more easily. Programming also wrote code to identify the AprilTags on the field and began to write code to gauge the distance between the camera and the AprilTags.
Our official team website also went live this week! We will continue to develop it as the season progresses, so make sure to keep an eye on it.
Though our design has changed since that CAD was posted, I can give you the general layout. Our current design uses 4 inch compliant wheels on 1/2 inch ThunderHex shafts. We started out with a larger center-to-center distance of the two shafts at around 12 inches (what you see in the picture), but through testing realized that a distance of approximately 9 inches was good for both cones and cubes. The bottom wheels are roughly tangent with the bottom of the chassis. The top wheels are further out of the chassis by about 4 inches on the horizontal axis. The four-bar-linkage will most likely need a complete makeover to be compatible with our chassis and pneumatic cylinders. Hopefully that answered your question, and I’ll try my best to knock out any more should they arrise.