Robotics beyond High School

First off, I’d like to start by saying if this seems to be in the wrong sub-forum, please move it to the correct one.

This was my second and last year in FIRST. I’ll be done with FIRST by September.
My first year in FIRST was a great year, I learned the design process, how trying to program physical items in a virtual world is a lot harder than programming virtual items in a virtual world, and how I had to deal with limited resources. Competition was equally as eye-opening as it was fun. Almost everyone there had a fun attitude and we were all there to play and wreck kiddos (but not really). Although we did not rank high and did not get to play in the finals matches, I still had a great time as did all my colleagues on the team.
In my second year, I used what I learned from my first year to teach the new kids and hopefully sit back and relax a bit. And that did happen, but to an extent where I feel dissatisfied with my involvement in developing the robot.

As the designated drive coach, I was to develop a strategy I thought would be viable, and had to help come up with a design that can be manufactured with our abilities. I had to coach the design and manufacturing team into what my general strategy was, and then they took over from there. Because of our limited resources and experience, I had to keep the strategy realistic to our abilities, and I had to modify my strategy after every little niggle that we came across in the design process.

We bagged up the robot two days ago and now it’s sitting in the unused home ec room in the back of the engineering class we operated out of, and now I’m left wondering… What next?
I felt more distanced from producing the robot this year, but that was a mutual decision from all the senior members to allow the new kids to get a feel of what it’s really like to design, build, and program (nobody actually learned much in terms of WPILib because nobody is interested in programming :ahh:) a robot.

I’m glad that I no longer have late nights working on the robot, but at the same time I’m going to miss it in a horribly twisted and sadistic way. I’m going to miss the excitement of finishing the robot by midnight on stop build day, I’m gonna miss spending long Saturdays hammering bolts through misaligned holes, I’m gonna miss the Sundays where everything had to be disassembled because it wasn’t built to spec.

FIRST Robotics is a unique program and I’m gonna miss it.
But all good things must come to an end.

I guess the real point of this is… Where do I go after FIRST?
There’s college and I’m sure there’s robotics there, but do they really offer the same intensity and good clean fun that is FIRST Robotics?

We have a student who graduated three or four years ago. He is currently studying Robotics Engineering at Lawrence Tech in Southfield, MI. He comes back every year to help with programming our new robot and the things he does for classes seem to be on par with FIRST in many ways. He also has had a few summer internships where he got to apply what he learned and some other stuff that is way over my head to automate some things for machinery and production equipment at the local GE Aviation location and Scherdel Sales and Technology. There are opportunities out there for sure, but I think he has made a lot of the ones he has found happen for himself through hard work.

There are a LOT of threads on this topic if you do some searching.

I reccomend Baja or SAE if your university offers those teams in their engineering departments. I know that VEX College teams are also a thing though the regional level events are somewhat lacking in the South East but that may not be a problem elsewhere. Then there are a ton of smaller scale but still very prestigious robotics competitions that exist hosted by NASA, Google, etc. I have personally been somewhat involved in the NASA Centennial Sample Return Challenge, where if your team can actually clear the second level there are some substantial cash prizes to be had. Do some research on the topic. You’ll find something I’m sure.

There are also undergrad research opportunities that exist.

I currently mentor an FRC team that is sponsored by Bosch and in the summertime I get some really nice Co-Op opportunities thanks to the partnerships I’ve created within Bosch.

Look into IEEE robotics competition. It is much for software based, but still robotics. There is the mars rover challenge as well, don’t know the actual name of it.

I am currently on an autonomous land navigation robotics team. I forget the name though. A lot of higher level robotics is more software oriented to my understanding than design focused. There is design, but it really comes down to who has the better software.

Another alternative is to look into going into robotics research. I am working on a topology based path finding program that I will hopefully publish, as well as implementing neural networks to have a small omni bot navigate and map out an unknown system of hallways.

I’m in the same boat as you. After being the CAD Lead on team 540 this year, I’m also graduating from my FRC program.

One thing that I’ve looked for is Formula SAE, Baja SAE, and Engineers without Borders organizations at colleges and universities. They’re similar to the robotics programs, just with a different focus. They are definitely activities that I will participate in next year.

Of course, this doesn’t have to be the end of FIRST. There are plenty of teams to mentor out there, and many universities are affiliated with teams, so don’t think FIRST will leave your life entirely unless you want it to. :smiley:

There was a discussion in a similar thread about the topic. Hopefully you may be able to find some more info.

Here’s my advice.

Come back and be a mentor. It’s the most rewarding thing I do, and it’s played a huge part in my life. Working with a group of young kids who can’t wait to work hard and learn is an incredibly awesome and inspiring experience. I’ve helped lots of kids, and FIRST has helped me. There’s a whole other side to FRC once you’re no longer a student. Find a local team and join! Every team and event could use your help.

I don’t encourage people to do FIRST in college. There’s so much to do in college, and FRC will still be around once you graduate, so I’d encourage you to join an engineering project team, find a job/internship, or try to get the most out of your education.

I was in almost the exact same position as you one year ago. I was a senior who just bagged up his final robot and was looking his last build season in the rear view mirror. It was a depressing feeling at the time. Since then I’ve done some things to fill the void that First left. I’m attending North Dakota State University majoring in Mechanical Engineering. When I got here I looked into SAE and Baja as others have recommended. The just didn’t have the same effect for me as First did. There is discussion on that particular topic elsewhere so I won’t go into that. I was looking for something that gave me the same “intensity and good clean fun” as you put it.

The first thought that come to my head after I decided against SAE/Baja was to join a college robotics club at NDSU. Well after a short amount of time I came to realize there wasn’t one :eek: So I started my own: Bison Robotics. The great part about starting your own club is that you can take it in whatever direction you want. Well I wanted to make the experience of being in Bison Robotics similar to that of being in First. As of right now our club has done/is going to do the following:

  • Robot in 3 Days: The GreenHorns- An absolutely incredible experience. If you want to talk about all the fun/frustration/highs/lows you have during the build season, try condensing it all into 3 days… it opens your eyes. In doing this it feels as though I never actually left First.

-Quadcopter: Our club is building a quadcopter for the heck of it :smiley: it offers a unique design and control challenge and there a a ton of competito out there after we get it working.

-Mentoring Local Teams: There are debates out there about whether or not you should mentor as a college freshman. I’ll let you look those up and decide for yourself if it’s a good idea for you. My experience (and the experiences of those in Bison Robotics) have been nothing but positive. Personally I’ve mentored 3 different teams at one point or another during this build season. Getting to work with different teams and seeing how they operate is so cool. It really gives you some perspective. It also allows you to give back to the community that gives so much to students.

-We will be competing in the NASA Robotic Mining Competiton in Florida next year. We have received well over $10,000 for the endeavour and are elated at the oppurtunity. This may be the truest “progression” from FRC that our club offers.

-We also hope to build an FRC drivetrain with all the bells and whistles and document our processes for teams to use as a resource.

In other words FIRST is just the beginning! If I may ask what college/secondary education do you have planned? If they don’t currently have a robotics club and you have interest in starting one I’d love to help! PM me if you want to talk about it more! If you have yet to decide on a college I’d highly recommend NDSU, they have a pretty cool robotics club. Oh yeah and also lots of classes… can’t forget those.

Thank you everyone for your great responses :smiley:
I really don’t know what else to say other than I acknowledge and appreciate all the responses haha

My Daughter is a sophomore in College, and this year she is building a battle bot.

A lot of engineering schools have design classes where a team, or teams, build robots to do certain tasks. One I saw while touring colleges with my daughter was a robot that swam like a fish (kind of looked like a shark). It may not be a competition, but it is a real world need.

I was in a very similar position. I was the driver and build captain my senior year, and then it just stopped. I went to college for mechanical engineering, but I needed something to fill the void. My FRC team, 1023 Bedford Express, has a policy of recently-graduated alumni only being able to come to practices once every week to make sure we focus on college.

With FRC not being an option, I went to FTC. I mentored, then co-coached, a jr high school FTC team, the Loose Screws. This filled the void, while also teaching me new ways to go about engineering. It is very different going from the one building the robot to teaching jr. high kids to do the same. However challenging, this has been a very rewarding experiance.

I would recommend mentoring or even coaching a jr high FTC team. If your school doesn’t have one, try seeing if you can help make one.

In my senior year of high school, I felt that there was very little else I could learn from my team engineering wise. (I still learned a lot about managing and communicating) So when I got to the university of maryland the first thing I looked for was a new project team that would give me new opportunities to learn and have fun. I found the Baja SAE team, and now I have been spending upwards of 10 hours a week building an off-road race car.

For me Baja SAE is basically a continuation of the FRC project team style. Working with professional engineers and professors (who consult F1 teams in their spare time) and even more advanced manufacturing and design. We have in house CNC machines and welding that I will get to learn how to use. And we have a 4 day long competition at the end of our build season where we have a 4 hour long endurance race where if something doesn’t break its a miracle.

FRC was a great experience don’t get me wrong. But there are so many great experiences that by only mentoring FRC in college you are really missing out. There are so many great project teams, like Baja SAE, Formula SAE, solar car, solar decathlon, human powered helicopter, etc. Every college should have at least one engineering project team, so go join a big one, or a small one, it doesn’t really matter. Go to 4 hour vehicle dynamics lectures at 8am on a Sunday, go spend your free time making jigs in front of a knee mill, go learn how to use finite element analysis to justify your design decisions, go learn exponentially more than you could on an FRC team, but most of all go have fun.

^ What they said.

FSAE, for me, was a natural extension of FRC. It (and other SAE programs) is/are the next step(s) in ‘competitive engineering’ challenges.

If you think being behind the glass in FRC is a rush, try driving a race car!

Hey Ryan, I’d like it if you gave me a little bit of credit publically for helping start the club. :stuck_out_tongue: It’d be best if you didn’t assume I don’t read articles on here; however, nice post and excellent job on encouraging others to pursue robotics after high school.

Oh, and Happy Birthday!


You didn’t have a Chief Delphi account until now! It wouldn’t make sense to mention somebody who people can’t find! I will mention you from now on :stuck_out_tongue: And thanks!

Keep in mind that when you’re going to college, there is a lot more than just learning your classes and building new robots. FSAE/Baja are great for those who enjoy mechanical design and spending time machining parts, but for programmers, strategists, even electrical (though to a lesser extent), have less to do.

Also, don’t feel that you need to come back and start mentoring right into college. For each one of the FIRST alums who are posting talking about how they started mentoring (and some who I suspect will post), there are two (and almost certainly more) students who graduate, go off to college, and never come back to FIRST.

Spend the time to relearn the material in a classroom environment, learn the theory underlying what you are doing. I took an introductory class in CS last semester that went over all sorts of design patterns and other cool things, that I had learned from my mentors and applied in the robot code, but didn’t get the full depth of, because the application of these techniques didn’t require certain elements of it. If you really want to mentor the students well, first you have to understand it yourself.

In addition to the studying/designing/mentoring that you may do, join other random clubs, see what sticks, you might be surprised. In my first week on campus, I walked up to a table recruiting for a Go club, an ancient Chinese board game. The thing about Go is, like FRC games, there are a (very large) number of different ways to approach situations, some more complex than others, and the strategist in me found it really cool, and now I play recreationally at least twice a week. I could talk all day about the game, but that would be way too off topic, but what’s important is that you do something productive. If you’re bored in college, you’re doing it wrong.

Forgive me if this is a little rambling, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to edit this down, and I have class in like 20 minutes.

While it is probably true that programmers, strategists, and electrical-minded people have less to do in FSAE and Baja than the mechanical team members, there is still plenty of work to do!

Some teams build and program their own ECUs, traction control systems, dashboards, DAQ systems, etc. Programming work can be quite significant. Heck, even my small FSAE team made a custom power distribution board and CANbus dashboard.

Strategy is similar, there is a challenge and one must weigh different aspects of the challenge in order to determine which is most valuable within the scope of what one’s team can accomplish. In FSAE there are scores for design, fuel economy, and cost in addition to all of the dynamic events. Balancing performance across all aspects of the competition is very important.