Finding Places to Practice in the Covid-19 Era

For teams that can practice, where are you finding the space to do so? How do you convince facilities to allow you the practice space? What safety measures do you have in place for when you practice in-person? For context: My team has been practicing out of a local school for quite some time (we’re a community team, so we don’t have our own building), but obviously due to the pandemic any school wants to limit or eliminate outsiders as much as possible.

We’re in New Hampshire, so practicing outdoors is possible but challenging at best. Finding a space to do infinite recharge at-home challenges, as well as somewhere to rewrite autos and practice driving on the chance there are in-person events has definitely been a challenge for us, so I’m definitely curious to see what successes other teams have had.

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A few years back we got serious about obtaining a dedicated practice space. We formed a 501© non-profit organization and have worked to get grant money to pay for rent. It was a leap of faith to sign a lease on space, hoping other area teams would be willing to help with the rent and share the facility. We have received a lot of in-kind contributions, such as materials for field elements and labor to fix up the space. No help with the rent, though, that I’m aware of. Grant money from community organizations is helping enormously. But, we have a space we used for the past couple years to practice before our first competition. Being able to hold driver practices, and test auto routines makes a huge difference in competitiveness. Since COVID has shut down our ability to meet at our shop in the school, having this space means that this year we will have a season. If we didn’t have this space, we’d be sitting this year out. During the fall we used the space to build and fly small quadcopters, and we’ll be continuing this activity during the season for members who still want to build stuff. This project is something which can be done mostly at home, with minimal in-person mentoring. When we meet at the STEM Gym, we all wear masks, and attempt to follow the 6 foot rule. This largely successful, though you do sometimes need to get closer to people for brief periods of time to do physical tasks like lifting heavy field elements. We have set up widely spaced work stations around the space, so people can work on stuff while remaining distanced. We have a number of mentors who are either themselves or have family members who are at high risk. Because of this we are not accepting new members this year, who would require close-contact mentoring. Our goal this year is just to survive as a team, and prevent anyone from becoming sick at robotics.

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We’ve been fortunate to be able to meet in person at our build space in the school. But before we could, we had to create a a safety plan and get it approved by the school administration. You can find some more resources (including our, and several other team’s, safety plan!) for our area on the FUM website below - I’m sure your area has similar resources specific to the covid situation around you!

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Finding a 15’ x 30’ space to do the skills challenges is going to be a tough one. In my hometown I knew lots of people with flatish 15’ x 30’+ driveways, but not so much in San Jose. Mentors are allowed to stop by the school during very limited hours, but students aren’t allowed on campus. Our leading idea right now is to find a parking lot somewhere, but currently all gatherings are banned in our county (even just two people from different households) so it’s unclear when we’d even have a shot at doing that.

We’re lucky enough that the classroom we meet is about 17’x40’ (and I hope I remember it being tall enough for our Power Cell shots) and that school is still presently in session and extracurriculars are allowed in the state.

If school goes back in session before the deadlines for us(hopefully we go back on February 1st) we have the atrium space directly outside the shop that is more than enough space for this. Until then, I’ll(being the person with the robot) probably be taking it to an elementary school’s soccer field to shoot things with my parents(who are mentors).

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The good news is our team has our own space at the school. It’s just a matter of sorting out with the powers that be how and when we can go in, with 8 to 10 people (haven’t figured that far ahead). It has a floor that’s about 90% of the size of the field.

The bad news is we have an Infinite Recharge center structure (made of wood) in the center of the room. It makes fitting a 15’ x 30’ clear space somewhat – challenging.

The good news is, laying everything out in CAD, carefully plotting the different challenges, we may be able to lay the “field” in between the legs of the center structure, at the 22.5-degree angle. The legs are all in the side squares, and with some more shifting depending on the challenge, it may work out.

Further good news is we have the (wood) goal already in place, but the bad news is one of the center structure legs is in the middle, to one side, like the tree in a soccer field. (Yeah, it’s a real thing, though it is only a practice field.)

I think our hanging mockup will have to come down unfortunately. It is in the middle of the half playing field as well.

Our carpenter parent/mentor build a full wood version with one hanger bar. The wood boundaries are velcro’d to the carpet and can be pulled up… actually they probably already are. It looks like maybe 4 different schemes to dodge the robot paths.