By Brittany Anderson
30 bright students make up Team 6357, The Spring Konstant – a Dripping Springs High School robotics team that competed during the FIRST Robotics Competition, held on March 5 and 6 at Dripping Springs High School.
This year, competitors faced off in FIRST’s Rapid React game. The premise of the game involves two alliances of three teams each who compete to score cargo balls into a lower hub for one point or an upper hub for two points.
During the first 15 seconds, robots are autonomous, moving without guidance from drivers (students) as they score preloaded cargo, as well as collecting and scoring any additional cargo. During the remaining 2 minutes and 15 seconds, drivers control the robots as they continue to collect and score cargo. Robots earn additional points if they are able to climb rungs.
Once the game is announced, teams have only six weeks to design, build and test the robot from scratch while meeting the engineering and technical requirements set forth by FIRST.
The Spring Konstant is composed of engineering students – those who design, build and test the robot – and business students – those who work on community STEM outreach opportunities for the team. Both sides have to work in tandem and come together at competition to show judges everything they have accomplished.
According to Ahlam, a sophomore engineer on the team, the engineers start off with brainstorming. Along with the engineers, CAD (computer-aided design) and programmers assist engineers.
“For this game, we have to think about how to shoot the cargo, how to climb and how to intake,” Ahlam said. “We set up four different groups to focus on, and in those groups, multiple people figured out how to make it work for the game.”
While the team faced struggles – not everyone knew CAD, or how to program – they were able to overcome them. Within the six week time frame, one team member taught a group of students how to do CAD, while some junior programmers taught freshmen members how to program.
There were also physics problems, like making the robot climb, which Ahlam said took three weeks to figure out.
On the business side of things, Piper, a sophomore on the team, explained the variety of outreach events they have done, many involving kids from the community while showcasing their robot.
Recently, they have been working on an application for the Chairman’s Award, the most prestigious award at FIRST that honors the team that best models its mission: inspiring greater levels of respect and honor for science and technology, and encouraging youth to become leaders in this space.
“We’ve been planning and writing a lot of essays, as well as creating a video and presentation for the judges,” Piper said. “We recently got feedback [from the judges]that said our presentation did really well. ”
The day of the competition, Ahlam said, was loud with a lot of robots and people moving around. Everyone had different jobs, from handing out safety glasses and talking to judges, to fixing the robot or pit scouting (finding other robots to make a possible alliance with).
The team placed 29th out of 30, which Ahlam said was mainly because their intake wasn’t working and they had a deadzone. DS High School teacher and team mentor John Adams pointed out that while the team had three problems with three major subsystems, they were able to diagnose and fix each of them so their robot was able to work the way it was supposed to during their later matches. .
“From a teacher’s perspective, that’s a huge success,” Adams said. “They figured out what was going on, how to fix it, got it fixed and got their robot back out there. From my perspective, it’s more about their ability to exhibit critical thinking skills, do the problem analysis and then design and implement a fix. That’s the part I find super cool. ”
The team was also awarded the Gracious Professionalism Award, meaning they exemplified the principles of FIRST: fairness, humility, sharing and perseverance. Adams said that this award is one of FIRST’s five culture awards, and The Spring Konstant has now won all five since the team’s inception five years ago.
“That means these students really understand and practice the philosophy behind FIRST, which is also very exciting.”
More than anything, this experience has helped its participants develop and instill a variety of skills and interests.
“I realize I do have an interest in engineering, and next year I’ll be taking CAD,” Ahlam said. “I like working together because previously, I’ve only done competitive sports, so it was always an individual thing. But with this, I was able to work with a team. ”
FIRST’s impact isn’t just limited to inspiring STEM careers either, as seen with The Spring Konstant’s business team.
“We worked together to create designs for t-shirts and infographics, and then I used Adobe Illustrator to make them come to life,” Piper said. “I really enjoyed doing that. I want to pursue a career in graphic design. ”
Adams said that DS High School previously had a robotics sequence in its curriculum that was geared toward another competition, but for now, it “truly is something the kids do on their own.” However, a robotics class will be coming back, and students will be encouraged to be involved in the extracurricular competition.
“It’s not just a robotics club,” Adams said. “It’s a UIL sport. These competitions are state-qualifying events. ”
Mentor Dave Wilson praised FIRST as being a “phenomenally useful experience,” where a variety of real-world skills are imparted on students and failure is encouraged.
“Obviously I’m horribly biased, but this to me is an amazingly good reflection of real life,” Wilson said. “One thing that struck me was that it’s the first situation for a lot of kids to work in a team environment. They have to help each other solve a problem. You do a lot more than just build a robot. ”
The team is continuing to work on the robot and will take it to its next competition in Irving in a few weeks. More information on FIRST can be found at www.firstinspires.org.