Zebracorns, TIGER, and Addressing Sustainability in FRC...

Alright, now that I got that out of the way, “What on Earth is Marshall off about now?!?!?”

So the past two weeks I’ve had the distinct pleasure of helping to teach some amazing students from all across North Carolina in a program we’re calling TIGER. TIGER stands for Teaching Inovation and Graciousness through Engineering and Robotics and if I had to give an elevator pitch the premise is that we want to continue on a pathway of sustainable FRC teams in North Carolina by starting rookie teams with the tools, parts, and training necessary to be successful in their first season and help them build skills all the way into their third season(and building a relationship that will last far beyond).

This year we had 3 teams, each with a mentor and 5 students attend a 2 week program hosted at our build space at Northgate Mall in Durham. Participants stayed at NCSSM for those 2 weeks (though we did give them the weekend off because we aren’t that mean).

Even though the camp was for two weeks, we started this process back during build season (yeah, we didn’t have enough to do then since we weren’t working on gears) by working with NCSSM to identify schools and having them complete an application process that involved a letter of commitment from the schools to provide space, a welcome environment, a teacher/mentor, and a proposed schedule for build season for participating teams.

Before anyone asks me how this is going to go… I honestly don’t know, but I can tell you what our hopes for this project are at this stage.

We want the teams we are partnering with to be successful. We’re going to be measuring that in a couple of ways. One, we want to see them be competitive and excel at their events and win an award (or two or three). We would also like them to learn and benefit from our knowledge an experience so we’ll be checking in with them regularly throughout the pre-season and build-season. We’ll be working with them on everything we can and making sure they are getting what they need.

We also want to see these teams grow their students and mentors (both in number and in knowledge). Hopefully they go from 5 to 10 or 15 students as well as adding additional mentor resources from ther communities.

We also want to see these students go off and pursue STEM degrees. Hopefully, in the coming years, some of these students will become future Zebracorns as students at NCSSM. Others will stay with their teams and continue on their path towards a STEM degree with any luck.

“So Marshall, what did these students and mentors learn in 2 weeks?”

They learned about the design process the way the Zebracorns do it (Save it!). They learned about reading the rules thoroughly (and multiple times). They learned about gathering design requirements. They learned about community-asset mapping and how to find resources in their own communities. They learned about communication skills, talking to one another, sharing ideas, and a lot of soft skills that don’t get enough respect from us Engineering types.

They learned about building a kitbot, how to wire it, assigning CAN device IDs, setting up Talon SRXs, using the CTRE magnetic encoders, PID (positional). They learned about powering their radios from multiple sources (POE!!). They learned how to solder. They learned about the oddities of LabVIEW and how powerful it can be. They learned about programming in LabVIEW because we want these students to be SpaceX engineers!

They learned about gear ratios, motors, and power curves. They even had some homework to spend some quality time with Microsoft Excel and the amazing JVN Calculator.

“Gee Marshall, you sure you didn’t bore these kids to death?”

Did I mention that the students spent their evenings doing everything from playing tag, to jumping on trampolines, watching movies, going to a Durham Bulls game, and whole lot more?!?!? Curtosy of the amazing NCSSM Summer Accelerator program.

This all culminated in a mini-game of sorts based on the gear running from this past years game using their robots. We timed them and let me tell you, they did quite well. With some climbers, These robots would have been solid 1st picks or alliance captains at the district events in NC. They exceeded what we thought was possible in 2 weeks.

I want to finish by thanking some folks.

We enlisted some seriously powerful forces in helping us create this program. The first was the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) and specifically the Distance Education and Extended Programs (DEEP) organization at NCSSM.

Additionally, the Engineering Department at NCSSM and the new Dean of Engineering at the school assisted so much with this program. It would not have happened without them.

We also asked the amazing people at FIRST North Carolina to help us with an instructor and I have to say, they responded with gusto and granted us the amazing Julia Wagner to lead our program for these two weeks. Julia is an inspiration and I’m so happy she joined FIRST NC.

We asked the amazing people at AndyMark to help us out with some rookie kits and they definitely came through for us in a big way. Each of the three teams walked home with a AM14U3, Talon SRXs, Sensors, motors, batteries, a battery beak, connectors, crimpers, pliers, screwdrivers, bits, a drill, and a lot more. I’m going to be in touch about some constructive product feedback as well from myself and our students - Don’t worry, we didn’t break anything this time).

We also had some help from United Way with getting some REALLY nice laptops for these teams to use as driver stations. Lenovo T500s complete with SSD drives no less! They also hooked us up with Windows 10 and Microsoft Office licenses.

Triple Strange’s students for coming in to talk about drivetrains and sharing their knowledge and expertise for a day as well! Thank you for showing me swerve for FTC!

Our amazing Zebracorn TAs! Folks, I can state emphatically that your mentors think the world of you for spending all that time in the lab and helping out these teams while also running around and making sure that everything behind the scenes was working. We’re very grateful for students like you!

Also, Meg, the other Zebracorn mentor (and my better half) who helped with a ton of this and much of the game planning and helping the teams with the design process.

The students and mentors on these rookie teams. We’re glad you jumped head first into our world and we can’t wait to show you how awesome it is! Thanks for being our guinea pigs!

Lastly, all of this would not have been possible without some financial help. You know who you are so thank you!

I’ve got some pictures that I’ll try to post once I’ve got more time to do it but I wanted to get this out there and share it. It’s just too cool not to. And of course I’ll try to post updates but don’t expect those frequently.

This is really cool, great work!


Edit: Your cat is still a jerk Marshall.

This should be the model for expanding FRC in every region. Excellent job guys!

Edit: Hey Marshall, Andrew didn’t make fun of you this time. That must be proof that you’re doing good stuff. :stuck_out_tongue:

Wow 900 is creating even more smaller Zebracorns (shall we call them baby corns?). I guess it’s only a natural progression. God help the GDC.

Edit: But really this sounds like an amazing program that every region should have. Way to go Zebracorns!

This sounds like an incredibly positive program, and I wish you guys and the teams you’re working with a ton of luck with it.

Is the curriculum available, or are recordings of some of the sessions online? I’m helping set up a fall training program, and would definitely be interested in seeing how you structured the camp overall, plus specifics of some of the sessions, if possible. Could you please expand a bit on the “community-asset mapping” and “gear ratios, motors, and power curves” presentations for rookies?


Sounds like a great kick off for the teams.

Sadly, not yet but we have some thoughts and plans about how to do this as we turn it from a one-time thing into a repeatable process. We’re actually borrowing a lot resources that already exist and just making them available and known.

We’re learning how to do this as we do it.

One thought definitely worth sharing is that there seems to be a lack of organized learning resources for programming FRC robots. Screensteps is good but doesn’t go far enough and many of the existing resources are getting out of date as programming techniques and tools change.

If we could harvest a tenth of the meme generator power on the FRC subreddit or the FRC discord server and put it towards making tutorials for programming FRC robots then we’d solve this problem.

I’ll try to post some of the links we gave out once I have time to do it but we don’t have any really great curriculum resources yet. Stay tuned.

Here are a couple of presentations I’ve given on FRC Java programming over the past several years at CHS workshops.

Pic (because it did happen!):


The lack of zebra print disappoints me…


Let us know once these teams have team numbers. I’m looking forward to following their progress through the upcoming season.

Wait. 3 sets of LEGAL bumpers on pre-rookie teams? (Ignoring the numbers, they don’t have theirs yet.)

The inspectors will almost certainly forgive you for creating three Zebracorn clones (with all associated loophole-finding) just because that’s three teams that they won’t have to worry (as much) about bumpers on. :p;)

If you look realllyyyy closely, the TIGER on the shirt is zebra stripped. We did put an emphasis on every team has their own culture and them finding what works for them

Two of the teams were rookies this year, 6565 and 6729. The third will be a rookie next year and we’ll tell you when they get their numbers.

We have posted a video of their parent demonstration on our YouTube page.


This is a very impressive program. I’m very excited to see the effort to develop more teams in NC. Great work. I know a lot of teams are working on tech training and it would be cool to learn from your experience… Perhaps a good topic for the Yearly NCFIRST Tech meeting? I would be interested to know more about what topics you worked on and how much you were able to squeeze in. In any tech training I’m always struggling to balance depth and bredth for a given time slot.

Looks like an awesome program! I chair a committee in Myrtle Beach focused on developing teams in the Grand Strand area. We have grown from one FRC team to 14 in the last five years. (http://robotics.gstechcouncil.org/) Do you have some details (plan, syllabus, etc.) you would be willing to share with us? Would love to know more. If so, please email me at [email protected]. Thanks for sharing!

Like Mrbill252 said, now that you’ve done it once…

  1. What topics/activities were really good/perfect
  2. Any topic/activity that you would drop