FRC ’14 St. Louis Regionals

The FRC 2014 St. Louis Regionals have come and gone.

Well, the St. Louis Regionals have come and gone.

For me, personally, going to the Regionals was an amazing experience. I realized how passionate all the FIRST students are. They willingly dedicate hours upon hours of their own time to build something that preforms a task so simple. Throwing a ball into a goal. It’s easy for a human, but trying to bring life to inanimate objects is an entirely different thing.

This year was not our best in performance, unfortunately; we placed 42nd. But simultaneously, we learned a lot of things about each other and about ourselves, and–most importantly–how to fix these problems next year.

A year of change

FRC ’14 brought about a lot of new people and a lot of changes to our external appearance. For starters, we redesigned our website, modernizing its appearance and maximizing its search engine optimization. It’s got a brand-new look with a few new bits of functionality, including a slider for the front page and a showcase for our projects.

We’ve also started to use our social media pages a lot more, post regular updates to both Facebook and Google+. Since the middle of January, our Google+ page has 50% more +1’s than it did previously, and people have really been enjoying the photos we’ve posted.

Summer projects

One of the important things we’ve identified is that a lot of the people coming into our program know little about how to work some of our most important shop tools. To fix this, we’re going to be doing a number of off-season projects to train students in how to use these pieces of machinery so this won’t happen again next year.

We’re also planning on having a coding session sometime over the summer. We’d have a lot more students who are familiar with the programming that it takes to build an FRC robot.

We also plan to meet very frequently over the spring, summer, and autumn: roughly once a week. We’ll be giving our older FRC robots some TLC whilst working on some other yet-to-be-announced projects.

Changes

Another small problem that we’ve had this year was communications. Person A would be working on a part and would have to leave, leaving the part sitting on the table. Person B would not know where Person A left off, and it would take some time for Person B to pick up from the exact place at which person A left off.

To solve this, we’re going to extend our website to serve as an internal forum-like app. We’ve already got WordPress, so we’re planning to use its user account system to provide the base for the forum app, which should be pretty easy to set up with a framework like Rails or Django.

We also plan to speed our design phase up by quite a lot to allow for more tests to be performed on the robot. This year was our fastest time yet, but we’re very confident that we can make it faster.

Brandon: Dean’s List award winner

I saved the best for last. The Lightning Lancers take great pride in Brandon Sanders, one of our captains for the FRC ’14 season and our first-ever member to be nominated for and to win a Dean’s List award.

Brandon is one of our two main programmers. He’s been programming in a variety of languages since he was twelve, including C/C++, Java, C#, Python, and a variety of less popular ones as well. Most of Brandon’s teammates are confident that his first words were in Java, but he denies it. Out of humility, we presume.

Brandon has been on the team for the past three years (including this past season), as well as three years on his FTC team, #4982 Cafe Bot. Cafe Bot will compete in the FTC 2013-14 Super Regionals in Iowa in just a couple months, after having going undefeated in a Kansas City qualifier and placing within the top quarter at the Missouri Regionals.

Between his two teams, Brandon spends eight of the year’s twelve months building FIRST robots, with the other four going to…well, non-FIRST robots. Robots, computers, and technology in general are his life’s passion. We are very proud of Brandon, and we are very grateful for the time he invests in our team.

You can follow Brandon @mechakana, or check out his blog at www.mechakana.com.

Expect more posts throughout the spring and into summer. I’ve been really busy lately, but with summer coming, I’m pretty sure I’ll get better at this blogging thing.