My Robotics Experience

The Robotics Team I’m a Part Of

I am part of an FIRST FRC robotics team, Missoula Robotics Team 3216. We are currently the only active team in Montana. The team is located in Missoula, MT and we meet at a local Missoula County public school once a week during the preseason. During the build season, we meet a lot during the build season, and have to build our entire robot within a short time limit (normally six weeks). To be able to travel, we have to raise close to $40,000 every season/year (not an easy task). There’s a lot to the team.

My History on the Team

My first year on the team I spent my time dabbling in programming. I had not taken the computer science class that would teach me the programming language needed to program the robot (Java). So most of that year, I spent a lot of time doing doing side projects and dabbling around. However, I did start to see what I would want to focus on (the programming and business aspect of the team). I did start to get a small grasp on how the team works, and how the programming works. I did receive the “Super Frosh” award however. The code for the robot at this time was extremely daunting. I almost felt scared of it. To sum it up, my freshman year was not the most effective year on the team.

My second year on the team, my sophomore year, I was a bit more productive. I started to learn about Java, the primary programming language used on the robot. The thing we program is called the RoboRio. I did start to learn how the code worked as well, but never got an in-depth analysis. I honestly still felt kind of scared to program the code used on the robot. So just like the previous year, I spent much of my time doing side projects. I started work on a dashboard, and starting looking at vision for the robot. The dashboard was a tool to monitor the robot, and to change some configuration values. In the end, the dashboard was never used. It was completed at the last second, and the drivers didn’t have enough experience driving with it. The vision system is a camera that can detect the objects that we needed to interact with (show in this video). However, the system did not work very well, but we still did use it. I also got the team to start scouting other people’s robots. But just like every other project, it ended up not working very well, and the data collected was never really used. I did win the analyst award that year. We also produced a reveal video.

My third year, my junior year, I was much more productive and actually wrote some code for the robot. I spent some of the year working on the dashboard, and someone else actually found a better solution. So instead of the dashboard, I worked on the vision programming with another person. We were very successful in tracking the target that we needed to shoot the balls into (shown in our reveal video). The system uses a camera with a green light ring around it. The light is reflected off of the tape and picked back up by the camera, and the motor arm aligns itself. We then took this system and applied it to our main robot. Our reveal video shows this in action. We also had to work with networktables, an API that works over the robot network. It allows us to send the data from the vision system to the RoboRio. I also tried creating a system to track our attendance, I wrote about it here. In the end, our team did very well and the vision system did as well. This year I won the “Initiative” award.

This year, my senior year, I have been working A LOT on the team. I worked with a team, the leadership team, over the summer to reflect on last year, and start working on the upcoming year. I worked primarily on business and social media with a bit of programming. I also created with someone else a tool that tracks each member’s contributions so that we can see them at the end of the season, and learn from last year. Now that the season has started, I have been working a lot with programming and business. I am not the programming lead. I have been able to take a much closer look at the programming, and also how the team works overall. The season is still in progress, and it is going great!

What I’ve Learned

I’ve learned a lot throughout the years. Even with all of the failures, I’ve been able to learn a lot. I’ve learned things from teamwork, to learning how to improve my leadership skills. It’s not all about building robots. It’s also about building each member on the team , and working on skills that we’ll need in daily life. This comes from our team’s personal mission statement, “Our mission is to engage and inspire students to develop life-long skills through participation in our FIRST robotics program, a STEAM environment (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics), by integrating community involvement, leadership, and communication”.

“It’s never been about the robots. We don’t use kids to build robots. We use robots to build kids.” — Dean Kamen, FIRST Founder

I have learned many soft skills such as how to preset to business, how to develop a business plan, and how to communicate with others on the team. I’ve also learned many STEAM related skills such as programming the robot and its various systems. I am deeply grateful for this team, and encourage everyone to support these teams across the world. It has gotten me closer to my dreams and aspirations. I wish to become a computer science teacher, and this team has definitely given me tons of experience. There’s something for everyone.

If you’re interested in helping out, many teams are always accepting mentors, donations, and parts. You can use this tool to look for teams in your area if you’re interested in helping.

Thank you for listening to my journey.



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