What can I do to help my team by becoming a better engineer?

This year I started out as a designer/engineer for our team. But eventually it seemed like I was being pushed to being a programmer, which was frustrating. Next year I hope to become the whole time the team’s engineer/designer. We had mentors from Notre Dame come in, but it seemed like they made the robot design much more complex than it needed to be. We spent 3 weeks coming up with the design.

I don’t think we known enough about how your season went or how your team is run to be able to help with team politics, but to address your original question,

Like any skill, a very good way to get better is to practice. Don’t worry if you feel like you only make slow progress - like most things worth learning, it takes a while to get good. Start with a goal of working at it for 2 or 3 hours each week.

  • If you don’t already know how to use a CAD package, start there. The big three that offer free licenses to FIRST teams (Autodesk, Solidworks, PTC) all have tutorials you can work through. Also, check YouTube for additional tutorials. If your team is already using CAD or your school offer CAD classes, I would recommend using the same package they do. Otherwise, ask your mentors which program they are most familiar with.

  • Model your team’s robot from this year in CAD (from scratch)

  • The RAMP videos from team 973 are excellent tutorials on how to make some of the most common mechanisms in FIRST. They also include some good tips on modeling using Solidworks.

  • Pick a few mechanisms from other teams’ robot this year that you like and try to model those. Check CD Media for some nice pictures of robot mechanisms to use as reference materials.

  • If you get stuck, ask your mentors for help. If they try to just do the work for you, insist politely that they explain how to do things and then let you do them. They’ll probably be more open to this during off-season practice than during build season, where anxiety to get the robot finished runs as high (or higher) for mentors as it does for students. Asking for them help periodically will also give them a chance to see that you’re making progress with your design ability and make them more willing to trust you during the build season.

  • Go back and read the rules (and/or watch the game animations) from old FRC games and then try to brainstorm robot designs to play those games. Only after you’ve done your own brainstorming, go out and look at pictures of the robots that won competitions that year and see how your designs compare. If you run out of FRC games, try scaling up some FTC or VEX games to FRC proportions.

I would like to apply like calculus, trig, algebra to robotics too. I believe in lab view you can exact locations programmed.

Regarding applying math to robotics, PTC also provides MathCAD for free. It can be used standalone or integrated with Creo to drive models based on equation results.

For any student on 610 who aspires to become a key member of our design and manufacturing group, they MUST complete our Design Tutorials in their entirety.

They are a comprehensive set of readings and exercises on FRC design fundamentals.

They can be downloaded here:

Once complete, students often hone their skills by designing an off-season project. Usually this project is a drivetrain of some kind - nothing overly complicated (so no swerve drives). The emphasis is on designing something that is simple, effective, reliable, serviceable and easy to manufacture. Here’s an example of a one such drivetrain.

This has been an excellent “formula” for success that has been followed by pretty much every key designer on our team.

Best wishes and good luck!