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Daniel Starner
Daniel Starner

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Time to Show Off the Robot

Now, I usually don't do something like this, but I just spent most waking hours of my life the past 4 months doing nothing but robotics, so I thought I'd show off and be proud of my students...This also explains why I haven't posted since the end of December 😮 This post comes also almost word-for-word from when I wrote it on our team website at

Back in December, I was looking for a new FIRST Robotics team to work with. If you are not familiar with FIRST, I highly recommend looking into it more and working with a team near you. The gist of it though is that high school teams spend six weeks building a 120 lbs robot that best accomplishes the game's goals. This year's game, Destination: Deep Space, was all about moving Hatch Panels (poly-carbonate discs) and Cargo (rubber balls) around the field and placing them in their respective goal positions. You can watch the game video below.

I ended up working with the G-House Pirates, who are located in Downtown Brooklyn in New York City. The students and the mentors acted like a close family, and by the end of the season, I too felt like I had joined the family. So then, onto the exciting part...

The Robot, Ms Calculated

Our robot for the 2019 FRC season, Ms Calculated, was purpose-built to play FIRST: Destination Deep Space, presented by the Boeing Company. This robot is one of the most complex that the team has built with the current group of students and mentors. Again, we only had six weeks to build this, I am so amazed at what the students accomplished, because the mentors only stepped in to offer advice. Everything was designed and built by the students.

Ms Calculated at the Loading Station
Ms Calculated had sensors and cameras to aid the drivers in collecting Hatch Panels and Cargo from the field’s Loading Station

Using a two stage cascaded elevator design, along with a multi-purpose manipulator for collecting and depositing games pieces, Ms Calculated could score anywhere on the field, including at the Cargo Ship and all three levels of the Rocket with both Hatch Panels and Cargo balls.

Robot Subsystems

Our robot was very complex this year and involved many different moving pieces and subsystems, read more about them below!

Elevator Mechanism

This was the first year our group of students and mentors attempted an elevator, and let’s just say that Ms Calculated could lift the game pieces to outer space! 🚀…or at least to the top of field’s Rockets! It featured the following:

  • A two stage cascaded elevator with Motion Magic positioning using Talon SRX speed controllers providing pin-point precision for lifting the manipulator to specific predetermined heights with little operator intervention
  • A second stage containing the mechanism for manipulation field pieces
  • Dual drive ropes for both lifting and lowering the stages, increasing the speed of the elevator
  • Mounted Constant Force Springs on each stage allowing for less drive rope tension and required torque to lift the stages

Cargo Intake

Our ground to Rocket Cargo cycles were fast

The cargo manipulator was placed on the elevator and provided the ability to score anywhere on the field and at any Rocket level.

  • Collection roller covered with a rubber coating allowed for collecting, holding, and depositing the Cargo
  • Rotating & locking wrist allowed for both Loading Station and ground collection of Cargo

Hatch Intake

Our hatch intake allowed for driver error and automated collection

  • Hatch mechanism extended over the bumpers using drawer-slides driven by pneumatics

  • A pair of notched poly-carbonate pieces would extend once inside the Hatch Panel, holding it in place

  • Later iterations, such as automatic collection using Limit Switches & hinged collection allowed for more driver error and faster scoring cycles

Sandstorm / Autonomous Period

The first 15 seconds of every match were played in Sandstorm, where black sheets were covering the Driver Stations, blocking any view of the robot(s) for the drivers, operators, and coaches. To account for this, Ms Calculated had the following hardware on board:

  • A Limelight camera which could automatically find and follow the reflective tape above the Cargo Ship and Rocket. Using the outputted data, Ms Calculated could drive to and position herself into the scoring position
  • A Pixy2 camera which could track and follow the lines in front of the scoring targets
  • A 170° fish-eye camera which allowed the driver and operator to see what was around the robot to navigate the field

Our drivers were always prepared to handle the sandstorms

Controls / Driver Station

Not wanting to be outdone by the previous year’s Driver Station, the team decided to machine and build a truly unique and special Driver Station, which contained the following:

  • The driver station laptop and an external monitor, allowing the driver and operator to organize their cameras and telemetry
  • Holds for the drive controllers
  • Handles to make it easier to carry
  • Custom team number and name engravings
  • A custom-built LED screen and button board for controlling all mechanisms not associated with driving the robot, such as position selection elevator control using a potentiometer and execute button, hatch & cargo collection and deposition, and more

Check out for some more images of our drive station!

Pretty Snazzy Drive Station

At the End of the Day

We ended up getting eliminated in the closing playoff matches of each of our competitions, but at the end of the day, we still had an amazing year with a great robot and an even greater group of's to 2020 being even better!

Oh, you think this is really cool and want to get involved? Lucky for you, there is probably a team in your area, so message me and I'll make sure to get you involved!... Especially if you're in the NYC area, we could always use more mentors!

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