Pick, Pack, Punt: A Disaster Waiting to Happen

The field for Pick Pack Punt

On November 19, Pick Pack Punt (PPP), an internal competition organized by Team Berkelium, became a reality. After a long period of design and experimentation, small teams finally had the opportunity to test their robots on the actual course. With some last minute refining, teams had the chance to collaborate in person and see months of hard work come to fruition. Although PPP gave newer students experience with the basics of robotics, looking back, we would make some adjustments to the structure of the competition. If you’re looking to host a competition of your own, here are our mistakes, and here’s how you can learn from them:

  1. Organization – We cannot stress the importance of organization enough. Hosting a competition with limited resources and experience requires weeks of planning, and isn’t something you can forgo. Decide on the venue and structure as far in advance as possible — there’s sure to be unanticipated setbacks along the way, so leave yourself more then enough time to address them. One of the most important things we learned from our experience with PPP is that test-runs are essential. The day of the PPP competition was the first time students had access to the course, and it took a while for students to adjust to the change in venue.
  2. Motivation – It’s a pandemic, and students are already under a lot of pressure — whether it be academic or social. Make sure that you set a timeline for students to follow. This will help discourage students from procrastinating – which is a totally natural response to COVID-19 – and set achievable goals that can increase motivation. Additionally, check in with students about progress. One of the biggest challenges with PPP was the lack of accountability for students. It was easy to fall behind and completely give up on the project, so take steps to ensure that doesn’t happen for you.
  3. Support for New Students – The goal of PPP was to engage newer members of the team with FRC style competition, and to provide students with a hands-on opportunity to work with robots. While our plans worked perfectly in theory, the pandemic made it much harder to support newer students. Newer students are going to feel overwhelmed without slow and simple introductory lessons, so make sure that you simplify everything as much as possible. Provide instructions for the base, and give students the opportunity to get creative at later phases. Offer videos and share resources for beginners.

Overall, PPP really allowed us to adapt as a team, and we believe that if we begin our next adventure with all of these lessons in mind, we can use our past experiences to grow. It’s a pandemic, of course everything won’t go perfectly. It’s not about getting it right the first time, or even the second. It’s about learning from past challenges and growing as a team.

Pick, Pack, Punt: How Robotics Does Distance Learning

Since quarantine began, the whole team has been working hard to create educational opportunities for our students. We’re achieving this through an offseason competition specifically tailored to the unique circumstances we find ourselves in. Pick, Pack, Punt (PPP) is the result of hard work from the whole team (especially leadership), with a goal of engaging both new and old students with hands-on robotics. 

Students are split into teams of five, with more experienced students leading younger ones to build unique robots. The competition consists of a three level playing field, each presenting its own unique challenge for the teams to overcome. Each level introduces a variety of challenges, which can be anything from designing a robot that can launch balls across the field to programming a fully autonomous robot.

In addition to providing students with a fun and creative way to gain competition experience, PPP is also a great intro to STEM and the glories of real FRC. Students need to design, assemble, and test robots in a quick and efficient manner. Additionally, students are challenged to code an autonomous AI-driven robot and program the control systems, which is a valuable skill for FRC.

Of course, coordinating this has not been without its difficulties. The strain COVID has put on the online shopping industry has created major holdup for supplies, with some components being delayed as much as two weeks. But even with these outside variables, each and every team persevered and adapted to the challenging conditions. It has been an inspiration to see the effort and intelligence of every team.

One important aspect of PPP is the incorporation of VEX, a STEM tool designed to teach newer students the basics of robotics and mechatronics. VEX focuses on three skills central to robotics: CAD, mechanical engineering, and programming. Because of its streamlined nature and great flexibility, VEX is a perfect platform for collaboration during the pandemic.

Through our implementation of VEX and PPP we hope to make this time productive and informative for all team members. It will be a valuable learning experience for newer students and teach older students about leadership and the importance of organization. Even with the logistical strain the pandemic has put on the team, we still truly believe that we will emerge as a better, stronger, and more prepared team once the FRC season finally begins.