Hi Harris can you introduce yourself and your robotics team:
I am Harris Christiansen, early-captain of FRC Team 3245 from
Salt Lake City, Utah. I am now a Freshman at Purdue University
studying Computer Science.
FRC (http://www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms/frc) is the largest
high school robotics competition, and is just one of the levels of
competition that FIRST (http://www.usfirst.org) is responsible
for. Each year, 34,275 teams (2,727 in FRC) comprised of 367,000
students (68,000 in FRC) compete in the competitions, and those
numbers continue to rise.
A quick run-through of a typical FRC season: The competition is
announced early January, and from there you have 6 weeks to
design and build a robot. Previous years games have included
Frisbee Golf, Basketball, Soccer, Volleyball with “goals”, and more.
Robots are approximately the size of a Fridge (3ft x 3ft x 6ft tall).
Regional Competitions start early March, and take place all across
the world (primarily US).
From each regional competition, 5 teams
are selected to move onto nationals, where 600 teams compete
for “Championship Winner”.While FRC is huge, my team was one of the first 20 teams in
Utah. Before my team started, 0 students of each graduating class
of 60 went into STE
How and why your team was founded?
My team was founded the year before my Freshman year. The team was founded because one highly motivated senior, Sawyer Brooks, had the brilliant idea of “Hey, wow, I found this amazing program. Lets start a team”, to which the school replied “Cool, go for it. We will give you a bit of money and otherwise be totally hands of”. Needless to say, that year the team hardly had a robot that could be called a “competitor”, but that is what our program came from.
One of the most important values that came from our inception, however, is the idea of the school being “hands of”. While our team now has amazing mentors and even an elective class
offered at the school, we pride ourselves on having passionate, knowledgable mentors who teach us well enough so they can be “hands off”.
It is the students who build, fix, and compete with the robot, not the adults.
What projects and competitions are you currently involved with:
Outside of FIRST, our team has demo’d at numerous local events (most notably Salt Lake Comicon), where we promote STEM and let young kids take the robot controls to see how much fun STEM and robotics can be. We also host numerous events on our own to promote STEM to young kids, including birthday parties and inviting local middle and lower-school students into our build sessions for a day.
With so many teams worldwide, and so many different designs, it is hard to pick a favorite robot. However, I would like to recognize Team 987, The High Rollers, from Las Vegas, NV for being awesome mentors to our team and jumpstarting our program by giving us the encouragement to attend Championships in 2012.
In your opinion what will be the big advancements in robotics this year:
Starting with the 2015 season, teams have been provided with a new control system, the NI RoboRio (https://decibel.ni.com/content/docs/DOC-30419) which will allow teams to build even more sophisticated robots utilizing more, custom sensors, and preform more on-board vision processing.
While I have now graduated, my team aims to continue to grow and introduce more students into the world of STEM. One new initiative we have taken is starting a second FRC team at our own school. This team, titled “Rookies”, aims to give rookies an indepth and amazing experience their first year. Rookies build a much simpler robot together as a team, learning all the systems and design skills necessary, and then take turns competing with the robot at competitions. This allows all rookie students to experience all parts of robotics/the program, and even get the experience of being on the field! Now that I have graduated, I have moved onto a new very exciting world:
Hackathons. Hackathons are a relatively new movement, first appearing roughly 4 years ago, where students of all ages come together for a weekend, stay up for 36 hours, and make
their ideas come to reality. At Hackathons, students form teams of 1-4 members, build their ideas, compete for prizes, and meet sponsoring companies. Many refer to FIRST as the gateway drug to Hackathons. Hackathons are hosted by student organizations, often at
Universities, and every year more and more students and organizations join in. It is estimated 60,000 students participated in Hackathons during the 2014-2015 season. Major Hackathons include:
PennApps(www.pennapps.com), MHacks(www.mhacks.org), and
Hackathons have been referred to as the “Career Fair 2.0”
because they are sponsored by companies (who pay for all the
food, drinks, travel, prizes, and space/rentals) looking to hire the
best students, get their name/product out there, and support the
cause. Top sponsoring companies include Apple, Microsoft,
Google, Twilio, Qualcomm, IBM, Pebble, Amazon, and MLH.
While the majority of students who attend Hackathons are Computer Science majors, and build software projects (websites, mobile apps, virtual-reality, games, etc), hardware projects are appearing more and more.
Some exciting hardware projects seen this past season include “drink making robots”, quadcopters, an automatic bike transmission system, a virtual reality game where you ran from zombies while on a treadmill, and more. I highly suggest checking out ChallengePost, a website where students post their hackathon projects: www.ChallengePost.com
Are there any teams/companies you are watching closely:
Early in the season, many teams will jump start into building a robot and report their findings on youtube and other social media’s. It is always important to follow these teams, see their ideas, and see what issues they ran into.
As the build season draws to a close, some teams release “Robot Reveals” where they show off their robot, and these videos are important in sizing up your competition as well as maybe coming up with some last minute ideas.
Before the competition, it is important to know what teams will be preforming best, who you might like to partner with for final matches (Eliminations), etc.
What advice would you give to someone looking to build a robot like yours? and what components or platform would you focus on:
If your high school does not already have a FRC team, I would highly suggest starting one. There is no doubt already a local competition near you given the size of FRC. To enter the
competition, there is a $6000 entry fee.
With your entry fee, you will receive a Kit at “Kickoff” (when they announce the competition)
that will contain everything you need to build a functional robot for
that years game.
Fear not, if your school is not able to pay this entry fee, try approaching local companies to sponsor your team. Many teams have over 20+ sponsors giving them $200,000+/year.
Once you have secured entry to the competition, you can attempt to raise more money for other robotic parts, and travel (if necessary).
Building a robot is not nearly as daunting a challenge as it may appear. Learn the control systems, follow the instructions included with your Kickoff Kit for building the simple starter robot, and you will be amazed at how quick you catch on. Building things is fun,
and don’t worry if you don’t know what your doing.
Have an idea you want to try? I suggest trying it, seeing if you can make it happen, even if you don’t have all the skills you might think you need to do it “correctly”.
My team lives by the rule of the 5 R’s: Robust, Reliable, Ready,
Redundant, and Ravenous (cool design). One of the hardest
challenges when building a robot is designing a mechanism that is
safe, and meets the 5 R’s. We want to make sure that our robot
doesn’t break down mid match, isn’t hard to fix when it does
It is also important to make sure you entirely understand the
constrains of the competition before you start building. I will never
forget my freshman year. We needed to release a “mini robot”
onto a pole at the end of the match. Our design was simple: A
ramp with a spring to push the “mini robot” onto the pole, and an electro-magnet to hold the robot in-place before we were ready to release.
We just overlooked one important part. On the day that we arrived to the competition, we realized our design would not work. Rules stated we could not power on any electro-magnets until the match started. This made it impossible to pre-load the mini-robot against the compression spring before the match. Oops.
Are you embracing or scared by the prospect of driverless vehicles and why:
I am embracing of the prospect of driverless vehicles. This is by no means saying that I am embracing of every implementation of
such a system, but I believe that done correctly, such a system provides enormous benefit in every aspect of the matter.
With driverless vehicles, I would want to be sure that the systems are redundant and cannot fail on a massive scale. One of the most frequently brought up situations is: “In a driverless vehicle world, lets say a vehicle encounters itself in a position where it is about to collide with a school bus full of children, and the only way to avoid colliding is to drive off the nearby cliff, killing only the driver”.
Questions like these are difficult, however my opinion is that the vehicle saving the lives of the many would be the correct and only option.
Are you concerned about robots taking humans jobs:
Technology and robotic systems have already been replacing human jobs, and they will continue to do so. However, they also continue to improve the quality of life as a whole, and should not be something to fear.
How do you believe robotics will affect the economy:
Robotic systems allow for a more reliable production of goods at a lower cost. This has two impacts: The producer makes more money for themselves, and the consumer spends less money on the goods. I believe these two impacts will balance each other out and
provide a less significant impact on the economy.
Will robots try to take over the world:
In our life times, no, robots will not “try” to take over the world. However it is possible for robotic systems to fail, and because of our reliance on those systems, a failure would in turn harm our society.
What do you imagine the world to be like in 50 years time:
Fifty years ago, the space age was just beginning. In another fifty years, I believe it is possible for a greater population of people to begin to live away from Earth.
What will be the biggest challenges for humans with the coming of artificial intelligence:
I do not believe true “artificial intelligence” will be seen in our life
time. However, I do believe artificial intelligence will greatly harm the job
market, more than “robots” do today.
Harris Christiansen’s personal website is available at harrischristiansen.com. Roborei.com would like to wish him all the best with his projects this year. He is likely to become a figurehead in the robotics industry and we will be watching his website for updates.
From all of us at the team, we hope you enjoyed the article.