Meet the Makers: First Robotics Competition Team 20

Maker Faires have always been a good place to go robot-watching. At the Troy Mini Maker Faire on August 27, you can meet Scorpio and other robots designed by the FIRST Robotics Competition Team 20 out of Shenendehowa High School. Their team advisor, Helen Gutelius, answered some questions for us.

What does a team in the FIRST Robotics Competition do?

The FIRST Robotics Competition is one of multiple programs offered by the FIRST organization. FIRST is actually an acronym that stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology.” The founder, Dean Kamen, created FIRST with the idea that scientists and engineers should be just as revered and idolized as, say, Eli Manning or Miley Cyrus. By creating role models for kids to look up to, more kids will be interested in STEM from a young age, and want to follow -or at least have a good understanding of- math and science subjects and careers.

That being said, FRC could probably be considered the largest competition out of all the programs that FIRST offers. It is open to all high school aged kids and most teams are open to having adults from the community join as mentors, whether they’re engineers or not. With several thousand teams and millions of participants across the world, FRC is enormous and still growing at a rapid pace. Each year at the beginning of January, the Game Design Committee releases a challenge to design a robot that fits the constraints of a game that they have created. This year, the game released was called “Stronghold,” and teams had to create a robot that could cross different medieval-themed obstacles (like a drawbridge) and shoot a “boulder” (really just a large foam ball) into a tower.

What is the history of the FRC Team 20?

Team 20 has actually been around since the beginning of FIRST, which started in 1992. We are one of the last few founding teams left in the entire world, and we’re nearing almost 25 years of experience! We’re very proud of our team and have even had two of the very first members from the 1992 team come back to visit us at one of our competitions. As a matter of fact, some of the original mentors even help us out! Mr. Kane, who used to teach at our high school (Shenendehowa) still helps us with welding the robot frame every year even though he is now retired as a teacher.

How many students are involved in FRC Team 20? What backgrounds and interests do they bring to the team?

In recent years, we’ve had over a hundred students each year join our team to participate on our many subteams. Team 20 is divided by subject: programming, mechanical, CAD, animation, VEX, media, safety, spirit, branding, business, scouting, and more. Some of these groups are working all year round, and some only stay active for a few weeks of the year, but all of them are doing very important work that makes our team successful and innovative. Many of our students tend to join for just one of these subteams, often programming or mechanical, and end up staying for something entirely different, like scouting or business.

What do students get out of participating in FRC?

A lot! Not only does FIRST provide millions of dollars in scholarships, students are also gaining valuable experience as to how an actual engineering company works, and get to see where their niche might be in a real business setting. Because of FRC, we’ve had students go on to schools like MIT and Yale, and get full 4 year scholarships to schools like WPI. Above all, FRC is a fun place for many to make lasting friendships and learn skills that last a lifetime.

Have you visited any Maker Faires? What are you looking forward to at the Troy Mini Maker Faire?

This is Team 20’s first time visiting a Maker Faire! Our individual members have gone to separate events, like the Maker Faire in New York City, but we’re really excited to be able to come and present our work together at a Maker Faire for the first time. We’re also really looking forward to see what other exhibits there will be, and showing the community what we can really do (if you let us, we’ll talk your ear off about FRC and the team). It sounds like a lot of fun, and we can hardly wait for August 27th!

Get your free tickets for the Troy Mini Maker Faire now and join us on August 27 to meet all our  Makers! The Call for Makers has ended, but we may consider late applications if space allows. There’s no charge to be an exhibitor, and we are open to any kind of art/tech/science project you have in mind. Just fill out the online application form and let us know what you’d like to share with the Maker Community. We look forward to seeing you on August 27!