Suggestions for a New Robotics Class/Workshop

Hi! I hope I’m posting in the correct spot for this.

I was informed today by my school that I’ll be getting a new classroom to use as a dedicated workshop for a Robotics class with the goal of competing in FIRST competition next year. Up until now, I’ve only taught Computer Science related courses so I’m trying to learn as much as I can for this new class.

I’m hoping to get some suggestions about what tools, kits, equipment, storage units, and safety I would need to purchase for this new class to make it safe and effective. This is a class designed for 10-12th graders. So far I’m looking at the VEX V5 Classroom Starter Bundle and the VEX V5 Classroom Super Bundle.

Any tips or suggestions would be much appreciated! I was asked to put a list together in 2 days.

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Are you competing in VEX or FRC?
This seems confusing to me.

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2 days is not enough time to put together a list. But budget is the biggest issue.
There are lots of threads with shopping lists for $5000, $10k, etc. budgets.

The VEX bundles are great, but you’ll be prepped for VRC, not FRC.

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Assuming you want to prepare for FRC, the Spectrum first $10,000 is a good list (if you have less than $10,000 you can hold off on buying stuff like the lathe or CNC router).

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Hi There. You are in the correct place to ask about FIRST Robotics. The first thing you should look into is which program you are interested in competing in.

The kits you mentioned above are specifically designed for VEX Robotics Competition. I do not have much experience with those kits and do not tend to see them at FIRST competitions in the united states.

The VEX Robotics Competition is not affiliated with FIRST nor is it a non profit organization.

The two levels of FIRST Robotics that 10th-12th grade students are eligible to participate in are FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) and First Robotics Competition (FRC).

The two programs provide similar experiences but on VASTLY different scale. A FTC Program can be ran by one or two mentors on a budget < 5000 USD. A FRC Program can be ran by a team of 5-6 mentors with industrial experience on a budget ranging from 20,000 - 200,000 USD. In addition to the mentor and cost requirements, an FRC program typically requires design/build students to put ~ 15 - 20 hours a week during the on season.

Robot wise FTC robots can be put together by middle school students (Search FIRST In Michigan FTC State Championships on YouTube), FRC Robots require High School students with an above average interest and ability in mechanical design, electronics, and programming.

Only you know the nature of your resources. If you believe that you can…

  • raise at minimum of 20,000 USD

  • have access to industrial tools (bandsaw, drill press, lathe, and CNC)

  • find at least 10 students who are willing to commit time outside of school

  • find at least 2 other mentors who are willing to donate more than 20 hours of their time per week

You might be able to start an FRC program.

If you are unsure if you will be able to meet every requirement above (minus the lathe and CNC) FRC is probably not the best option.

Should you decide that FRC is not for you…

FTC is an excellent alternative.
FTC robots are smaller than FRC robots (18in by 18 in by 18 in VS. 30 in by 30 in by 48 in) and weight approx. 18%.

They also cost much less. A competitive FTC Robot can be built for 3000-5000 USD.

The time commitment for FTC is also much smaller than FRC. You might be able to build a competitive FTC robot without meeting outside the school day.

FTC does not require the Industrial equipment that FRC does… Any FTC team can build a robot with a cordless drill, a hammer, some hex keys, and a hand saw.

In addition to this the options for FTC kits are much more extensive and competitive than those for FRC. The advantage of building within a build system is that everything just “fits”. Gear spacing is already done for you as well as many pre built linear motion devices.

I highly recommend the Go BILDA build system. Other Alternatives such as Pitsco Tetrix MAX and the REV Robotic Duo Platform exist and are used by many teams. Andymark also supplies many useful FTC products.

If you were to ask me for my personal recommendation I would tell you to order two Go BILDA Kit’s.

  1. Strafer Chassis Kit V4 - goBILDA

  2. Master FTC Kit (8mm REX Shaft, 2021-2022 Season) - goBILDA

In addition to these mechanical kits you will need a REV Robotics Control Hub, a REV Robotics Expansion hub, and a REV Robotics Driver Hub. Note that these items are highly sought after and sell out very quickly. They are estimated to be back in stock late AUG 2022

After selecting a build system it is typically a good idea to buy most of your parts from that supplier so you don’t run into compatibility issues.

Many FTC games make use of some sort of linear motion (Typically vertical) - DO NOT under any circumstances buy a linear motion kit if it does not run on Ball Bearings. The “Slider” kits, specifically REV’s extrusion sliders will jam in anything less than the ideal conditions (lubricated with absolutely no side load and no damage to the rails).

The best LM kits I have seen also come from Go Bilda.

You will want to buy a good multi port NI-MH battery charger as well as 4-6 of https://www.revrobotics.com/rev-31-1302/

You will need two of https://www.revrobotics.com/rev-39-1865/ controllers to drive your robot.

You will also want to have a dedicated NON-School laptop to program the robot. The laptop should be “newer”, run Windows 10, be durable enough to survive drops, and have an extremely long battery life.

A good 3D printer is not a must but is nice and relatively easy to get funding for (Schools like “STEM Technology”)

A Cheep one

A Good one - Buy the factory assembled one the 300 dollars is not worth your time pain and suffering and extra packs of haribo gummy bears (satire) putting this printer together.

That should cover most of the Basics to build an FTC robot.

Please note that there are kit options for FRC robots but a low level analysis of every component would take me ~ 5 hours to write. VEXpro - VEX Robotics and the WCP Competitive Concepts – WestCoast Products are your best bet.

This thread is already the longest I have ever written, if you have any questions do not hesitate to ask them. I have many years of experience participating in both FTC and FRC as well as 1 year of experience as a Co-Head Coach of a successful FTC Team. The members of this forum all have similar if not more experience than me, rest assured your questions will be answered by someone should they be posted here :slight_smile:

-Thomas Gormley
2834 CAD Lead | FTC 18474 Coach | FiM Volunteer

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We will compete in FRC. I realized after I posted this that VEX and FRC are two different things.

I’m mostly hoping for suggestions and tips for what sort of things I’ll need to run this type of class.

It’s really not but that’s the timeline I was given :frowning:

This was so extensive and helpful! Thank you so much for clarifying things for me. I’ll look through all these links right now.

I was hoping to go for the FRC route, but I can see now that it requires a lot of things that I might not be able to gather in just 1 summer without my school’s support. So I might just go with the FTC route and build up to an FRC route.

A follow up question for anyone who can answer this… Outside of the kits and parts, are there other safety considerations and equipment I might need for a classroom setting? I’d also like some recommendations for storage units to keep organized. For example, safety glasses or racks. Will I need a rivet gun or other tools?

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You will definitely need safety glasses and a basic first aid kit (think band-aids for minor cuts and scratches). Hearing protection is also important if you’re going to have any loud machinery. Maybe this goes without saying, but don’t bring in any equipment for the students to use (drill press, bandsaw, fancier machines) unless YOU are confident in YOUR ability to use it safely and teach them how to use it safely, or have another adult on hand to teach & supervise it.

I notice you’ve used the word “class” several times to describe this endeavor, rather than “team”. As ThomasG mentioned, most FRC teams put in at least 15 hours per week from January-April, with 20-25 being more common, and teams that spend less than 15 hours tend to struggle severely to complete a robot. I’ve never heard of an FRC team successfully being run as a class (~5 hours per week?) without additional meeting time after school or on weekends. If you are not planning to spend 10-20 hours per week coaching the team outside of class, and don’t have another adult lined up who can cover those hours, it’s hard to see this “class” competing at even a very bare-bones level. I’m not as familiar with FTC, but I believe the typical time commitment is generally lower than FRC, which might be another reason to consider it.

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I like your “ease in” approach to FRC, I believe it will serve as a good indicator to resources required.

Revit’s are good for final robot design but they are far more permeant than bolts. Use them at the end of the design process… if you choose to use them at all.

Locktite and the supplied bolts are often more than enough for FTC applications.

There are many safety measures in all FIRST Programs. For FTC the worst thing that can happen either is permeant eye damage as a result of foreign objects such as nuts/bolts/metal or a broken finger as the result of unshielded gears/chain.

Below is a list that will get you 95% of the way there in terms of safety.

  • Safety Glasses

  • Hair ties

  • Closed Toe Shoes

  • First Aid Closet

  • Common Sense

  • Tool Training

Side note: some schools have UV sanitation racks for chemistry goggles… This might be a good thing to ask for in a classroom environment.

If your school has an Auto-Shop program or a Woodworking lab they might already have safety procedures that you could implement into the robotics lab.

I’ll be staying away from heavy machinery this year. If we do need anything like that, we have a parent who works at a shop that we can reach out to thankfully :slight_smile:

That time frame helps! I’m prepared to have students come in outside of class time to work on the robot to complete. I’m mostly just trying to make sure I have the classroom itself set up and equipped so that we can be successful and safe!

Thanks for outlining the safety practices and equipment I’ll need. This is the first “shop” class of any kind at our school so I’m doing by best to make sure I consider everything I can. I’m new to all of this so having all the tips and suggestions helps immensely!

Firstly, congrats to you on deciding to take on the joy and pain of mentoring a FIRST Robotics team! I mentor both FTC and FRC, and starting in FTC is the right choice. Jumping straight into FRC without a well thought out plan and dedicated mentor team is not how you want to start you foray into FIRST😁. FRC is definitely sexier and gets a LOT more love from FIRST, but it is exponentially more challenging and is a whole new level of commitment from mentors and kids. Your plan to start with FTC and work towards FRC is the only way to go and I guarantee will be more enjoyable for everyone.

I completely agree with the recommendations for kits and parts given, as with some basic power tools they will give you a great basic bot - where you go from there will only depend on the ability and creativity of your team and of course your budget😁.

When you register your team, you will be able to order a Control and Communications kit plus an Electronics kit for a discount through FIRST that will get you a Drivers Hub, two controllers, a Control Hub, a few sensors and some cables.

Some fairly large expense and space commitments not mentioned yet are the yearly game elements (required) and a playing field (very nice to have but not needed initially).

For years, my FTC team used Home Depot foam floor tiles and a partial game element set with no field and it was definitely all we needed to compete, but having a field with proper tiles is a big benefit once you can justify the cost. The biggest issue with a field, is finding a space to ideally keep it set-up all year - we work out of my garage, so don’t have that ability and setting up and tearing it down every build session is not ideal😫 but you do what you have to!

Best of luck and reach out to the on line FTC community and the teams in your area with any questions.

Cheers.

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One other thing not related to your question but critical to your season is to find out your school districts travel requirements. Avoid possible disappointment by knowing what you need to do to take your team to a tournament😁

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Thank you for all the advise! Hopefully we can get to a position to compete in FRC in 1-2 years. Not sure yet if that’s an unreasonable timeline but we’ll see how budget and everything works out.

Good point on transportation. I hadn’t thought of that at all. I’ll bring that up in my meeting tomorrow too :slight_smile:

It’s not just transportation. Many school districts have onerous regulations for “overnight field trips”. It’s not fun to discover at the last minute that you didn’t file the right paperwork in time, or that you don’t have enough chaperones, or that you chartered the wrong sort of bus.

Another potential policy to be aware of is if you need X number of chaperones of a certain gender. Our board typically asks us to have at least one female board member (all our teachers directly involved are male) accompany the trips/excursions. I’ve also known some boards to require X number of chaperones for every so many students.

I see. Thank you for the clarification. I’ll make sure to ask for those policies.

I was able to use everyone’s suggestions to put together a hopefully decent list of safety equipment, materials, tools, and storage units I will need for the upcoming school year.

I’m thinking a 3-D printer might also be useful. Would that be recommended? Are there any software programs you’d recommend that might also be useful?

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The spreadsheet linked by Alexander above has the Prusa Mini+ 3d printer on it, which I’m a big fan of as well. My team used 3d printing this season to make camera mounts, and there’s plenty of other applications you may come across.

As for software, the main things that come up are CAD and programming. My team uses OnShape for CAD since it’s free and has pretty easy collaboration between users. For programming we use the default install of Visual Studio Code that comes with wpilib, plus Git for version control. I don’t know if the programming tools for FTC are different though since I’ve only done FRC. CAD is CAD, though, and getting a good design in CAD will make making parts and assembling the robot a much smoother process than it would be otherwise.

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FTC does not use wpilib and iirc has vastly less convenient support, but there is an FTC Discord server that might be able to help more with that. FTC also generally does not use CAD especially at a lower level, but CAD is a very good skill to have no matter what. If you want to 3dprint things you will need at least some CAD work

It might be worth considering Vex instead of FTC here. It sounds like you want to avoid tools and have a fairly small budget. Vex is much more organized from a setup standpoint than FTC.

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