ORCA3136 Open Alliance 2022 Build Log

We are team 3136: Official Robot Constructors of Ashland (ORCA for short) from Ashland, Virginia. We’ve been around since 2010, making it to districts for the first time in 2018! We had a singificant team rebuild back from 2016/2017, and are on our way to becoming a stronger team! Our current mentors are mostly alum or parents of alum, so we are a very tight-knit community over here. We are very excited to join the Open Alliance!

We currently operate out of a small closet in the engine workshop of our local high school. We also have access to spaces like the cafeteria and gyms that we use for testing.

We currently have about 10 members, having lost a lot over the course of the pandemic. In our extended offseason, we developed a multipurpose frame for future use (linked here) that we will be developing and using during this upcoming season.

Our main goal this season is to establish ourselves and rebuild properly. We want to gain new members, pass on knowledge, and learn new things as a team. We also want to create and maintain a robot that is competitive and able to keep up with robots that were created with a much larger budget. We’ve been able to do this fairly successfully in the past, and hope to find our past momentum again this season.

Our events this year are as follows:
Greater Richmond #1 (week 1)
Greater DC #4 (week 3)
(And hopefully CHS districts and worlds!)

We’ll post updates in this thread and in our channel of the Open Alliance discord. We will try to keep it weekly, and may even update more frequently. Here is a linktree that will link to all sources relevant to this thread. If you have any suggestions for what we should add to it please let us know!



Meeting 1: Kickoff (1/8)


The team landed on a general strategy and robot design. We started work on our CAD design and opened a GitHub for code. We went through the rulebook as a team and talked in depth about any points we deemed important to keep in mind as the season goes on. We also introduced our new students to the program and watched some videos of past competitions in order to get a feel for what we’re getting into. We especially looked at 2013, as the pyramid ascent looked very similar to the bar climb from this year. Further discussion was done about the strategy and robot as the night went on. Our students did a wonderful job leading a majority of the conversation and facilitating an easy and honest discussion.


The turnout!

Our stream setup using a room at the local library.

The Good:

This was one of our most productive kickoff meetings ever! Even though we had low turnout, the students who came were dedicated and really wanted to gain momentum for the season. We landed on a general design and really started to kick off our CAD model (linked here). We also landed on a great strategy, which contains the following:

  • Aim for the high goal. If we find out we cannot engineer a high goal solution, it would be far easier to switch to low goal shooting, rather than switch to the high goal shooter from a low goal shooter. This will almost definitely be done with a shooter similar to our 2020 design, which is a slightly modified version of the Ri3D robot “‘Snow Problem” (seen here).
  • Engineer a solid mid bar climb solution. High bar seems like it could be out of our reach. If we can come up with a solution before we start building our mid bar mechanism, we’ll add it in. If not, we bank on a solid mid bar climb. This will most likely be using an elevator (more robust, however) similar to our 2019 design (seen being tested here).
  • Passive defense. Our robot will primarily be used as a high offense bot, scoring a significant amount of cargo and being a reliable mid bar climber. We’ll be using a chain driven 6 wheel design, with 6” plastic wheels. This should provide us plenty of traction while not tearing up the carpet (of which we did our fair share in 2016), while also allowing us to resist sideways pushing from any robots trying to knock us off course. If there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s traction.

The Bad:

We did not make as much progress as some others. We anticipate running into weight problems and space problems. Our team sometimes has some luck with space problems happening to work out, but when it’s all theoretical we really don’t know for sure. As our CAD develops we’ll be able to see what space we have and what we can efficiently use to make our robot the best it can be. Not a lot of students showed up, and it would have been nice to be able to properly introduce new students and get them ready for the season.

Meeting 2: First Build Day (1/9)


This meeting started with a hitch. We were unable to access our shop. This was fortunately remedied within a couple of hours, and we used this time to expand our CAD and start our code. Once we got into our shop, we started disassembling the essential parts of our 2020 robot, Steve. He will be missed. While someone was working on that, we had 2 people helping to clean out our closet and sort some of the loose parts. This was very helpful, and we ended up finding a few things we didn’t know we had that saved us a couple bucks. We also had another two people cutting metal for the robot frame, one person improving our CAD model, and another two starting to code.

Things Achieved:

I am hesitating to call them goals, only because they were not set before the meeting began. But they were amazing to accomplish anyways.

  • CAD improvements! (here)
    • The CAD was improved to show motor placement, floorpan cuts, and general cargo shooter shape. This is a big move in the right direction.
  • Code started! (here)
    • The code was started! We’re about ⅓ of the way through making a drivetrain work, and a significant amount was done in the way of being able to communicate with the motor controllers.
  • Possible name?
    • One of our students noticed a fire extinguisher in the hallway with some of the letters removed, reading “Fire Tinguisher.” This seems to have stuck, and an early contender for the robot name is “The Tinguisher”
  • Frame pieces fully cut and almost ready to be assembled!
    • She’s looking great already!
    • 4 of our 5 students who attended filing down the rough edges of the aluminum.

The Good:
Never have we had a frame in this state this early. This is incredible. With learning CAD in the offseason, we had the opportunity to cut all the metal our first day in the shop. The team also feels that communication is better this year than most. Frustration has been kept at a minimum, and we’re having fun while still staying safe and getting things done. As mentioned early, we found a lot of parts that were presumed missing, saving us some money and grief in the long run.

The Bad:

Another lack of students. It seems that the 5 students who attended both today and the kickoff meeting will be our core group. While I am glad we have students at all, a majority of the team wishes we had a few more students to help with more daunting tasks. Another issue we’ve had is inventory management. We have a lot of stuff and not enough space. Currently we’re doing our best to label and sort the important parts, but it’s tough to keep things organized with such a small storage space. If anyone has suggestions for keeping small spaces organized, please let us know!

Next Week:

We’re meeting on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. We have no goals for this week. Almost everyone on the team is new or inexperienced, and we want to learn our limits and average pace before we set any goals. We are happy with our current trajectory and hope to keep our momentum going into the coming weeks!

Please let us know if there is anything we should add or if you have any questions/comments! We are always willing to help.



Meeting 3 (1/11/22)


This meeting was shorter than the past 2, as a majority of our weekday meetings will be until crunch time near the first competition rolls around. Progress was made in code, CAD, and closet organization.

The Good:

Progress was made! Here’s a little breakdown from each department:

  • Code!
    • Drivetrain code finished! Glad to have it knocked out this early. We will of course continue to develop and test it.
    • I realize the github link leads to an empty repository, I’ll try and get our coders to upload something this weekend!
  • CAD!
    • CAD for the drivetrain has started. Lots of tedious placement and duplication. Goal for this is to be finished with drivetrain modeling by the end of the week.
  • Organization!
    • We cleaned out some cardboard boxes and sorted into their proper tupperware tubs. Not much more to be said here.

The Bad:

Really not much. We’ve found that a smaller team has been somewhat beneficial so far. We can only hope it stays that way.

Meeting 4 (1/13/22)


Progress was made in code, CAD, design, organization, and fundraising. We landed on a few very important ideas for our robot.

The Good:

Some possible new members! We’ll see if they stick around.

Progress! Here’s a breakdown:

  • Code!
    • Development has started on getting a limelight working. Good progress. Hopefully we can use it to assist our autonomous this year.
  • CAD!
    • We continued work on the drivetrain modelling and worked out some interference issues.
    • Started significant work on the shooter CAD. Glad to see it coming along.
    • Drill guides for precision drilled mounting holes are finished and are being 3d printed as I type.
  • Organization!
    • Found a few more parts we wanted for this upcoming season, and sorted even more to make finding them easier in the future.
  • Design!
    • We found a pneumatic cylinder used for our 2020 robot climb. Could be useful for this year!
    • Started to finalize a climber design as we finalized our drivetrain. The two are very close in our design. Tolerances will be tight.
  • Fundraising!
    • An email was drafted to send to prospective sponsors!

The Bad:

Incoming inclement weather means no meeting this Sunday, and a longer one on Saturday. We cannot fully make up for the time loss, but hopefully it’ll be something.

Please let us know if there is anything we should add or if you have any questions/comments! We are always willing to help.


Meeting 5 (1/15/22)


This was our longest meeting yet. We’ve written off Sunday the 16th as an available meeting time as the weather is not looking great in our area. Not all is lost, however, as we will be cutting prototype parts at home and continuing our CAD work while stuck at home. Today was not as productive as originally hoped, but the work done today provides a really solid ground for us to continue with confidence and efficiency. Progress was made in code, CAD, organization, and design.

The Good:

We had a monster 10 hour long meeting today. Everyone was kept happy and productive a majority of the time, and we worked out a lot of kinks. As stated earlier, the progress done today provides a solid baseline for the next few weeks.

Here’s our department breakdowns:

  • Code!
    • Drivetrain code tested and working on a Romi! Should be easy to transfer over to the full robot once we have a drive base constructed.
    • Limelight code was continued and in progress.
    • We no longer have an empty repository!! - but the code that is there isn’t quite working.
  • CAD!
    • Shooter design was integrated into the frame assembly and interference issues were worked out.
    • Drivetrain is farther along than previous
    • An intake design was modelled! (more on this in the design section)
  • Organization!
    • We FINALLY got our closet more organized! Everything is PROPERLY labelled and sorted. Bins that need to be accessed more often are able to be accessed with minimal movement. Very nice.
    • We finally disassembled our 2020/2021 robot, Steve. All his parts have been put away and will be passed on to future robot generations. RIP Steve, you will be missed.
  • Design!
    • New intake design!!!
      • As seen above, L-shaped bracket will flip up and out from the robot.
      • We will have minimal front bumper (6” on each side only) so this will simply help pull the cargo in
      • Trying to create an intake that lets us extend a little bit past our bumper perimeter, as that seems to be necessary this year. We will add wheels and belting as the CAD comes along and we actually build it and test it. This is only the start of an idea for now.
      • This will most likely be deployed with pneumatics!
    • Shooter design!!
      • We will be shooting BACKWARDS!
      • This is to help with autonomous shooting
      • A conveyor-belt-like system will accept the cargo from the intake and v-funnel (not yet modelled) and pull the cargo first further in, then upwards. Then a two-neo-powered wheel will provide adequate speed at the proper angle (we found this to be roughly 60 degrees if our robot is pressed against the fender) to launch the cargo into the high goal. Testing to come!
    • Drivetrain!
      • We hear your comments about our thick-wall aluminum!
      • For now, we are leaving it as is. If we find we need less weight and switching some parts to a thin wall is the way to do it, then so be it. Until then, we’re content with our beefy thick-walled frame. We also intend to use our inner drivetrain rail as a mounting point for things like our shooter, climber (TBD), battery, pneumatics, and electronics boards.

What a monster list of good things. Very glad we were able to get all this done!

The Bad:

The lack of a meeting today means we must wait until Tuesday for our next opportunity to work. Unfortunate, but sometimes that’s just how the cookie crumbles.

Now, the really bad:

We cadded our robot incorrectly.

Yeah, you read that right. We made it a half an inch too large in both horizontal dimensions. This would have been just fine if we were going for a smaller, more streamlined approach. But that’s not the ORCA way of doing things. We push it to the max. And so, our frame perimeter was 121” around. One inch too large. This meant we had to spend HOURS shrinking our robot in cad (since CAD is new to the team and a learning process for us, so we took the time to make some adjustments to make it easier in the future) and cutting down our frame pieces. In the end, we got it done. But we are learning from our mistakes.

Another build log comes to an end. If you have ANY questions do not hesitate to reply to this thread or send a message in our Open Alliance Discord channel. We always appreciate feedback and options.