From 2011 through 2014 I participated in the FIRST robotics competition on team 125, the NUTRONS. It was a formative experience and one of the things that turned me on to engineering and robotics. While on the team I designed and manufactured several mechanical systems and coordinated with a team of mentors and student engineers to build effective and robust competition robots. During my four seasons with the NUTRONS our team won 5 Regional Finalist Awards, 2 Regional Winner awards, 3 District Event Winner awards, and attended the FIRST World Championships and the Indiana Robotics Invitational 3 times.
Below are some of the systems I designed:
Pictured here are two of the later iterations of the “minibot” for the 2011 competition. It was a small robot that deployed off the back of the main machine to race to the top of a 10 foot pole for a large point bonus at the end of a match. Early in the season most team’s minibot designs clocked in at 5-8 seconds. Our design was one of the first sub-two second climbers, and towards the end of the season similar designs were widely appropriated across the highest levels of competition. The key to it’s success was the large weight savings from removing the need for gearboxes, wheels, and any kind of mechanical clamping mechanism to hold onto the pole. This was achieved by using the motors to direct drive rubberized axles, and securing the minibot the pole using strong neodymium magnets.
These images show the launcher for the 2012 competition. In 2012 points were scored by launching foam basketballs into hoops. This system was used to launch the balls the robot gathered. It featured an articulated camera mount on the front for use during autonomous operation and actuated “hood” to change the firing trajectory. The entire gearbox and flywheel assembly was a separate module that could be replaced in minutes in case of failure.
This is the drop-down roller intake for the 2013 competition. It was actuated pneumatically so it could be extend or retracted from the front of the robot. It was used to gather frisbees from the ground which were used to score in the 2013 competition.
In 2014 I worked to design both the robot’s drive-train, and the “choo-choo” winch system which was used to cock our catapult. The “choo-choo” (named for its resemblance to a train linkage) was a two-jointed linkage which operated as a winch. The unique advantage of the “choo-choo” was that it required no release mechanism as it would automatically release after one full rotation when the load passed over-center. It can be seen in operation in the video above.