On January 7, the Berkeley High School robotics team gathered at Richmond High School to watch the 2023 First Robotics Competition (FRC) Kickoff. The Kickoff is an annual event that determines what the robotics team builds for the next couple of months. For this reason, the Kickoff is a highly anticipated event.
The Kickoff started with various important members of FRC speaking including FRC sponsors, the CEO of FRC, and the founder of FRC. Then the game animation was finally revealed. The game animation shows what the game will look like, and how to score points. The 2023 game is fundamentally about scoring cubes and cones on a grid.
After the Kickoff, the game manual was released. Team Berkelium, the BHS robotics team, went back to their workshop at BHS. They went over the rules, and began to prototype.
“First, we usually read through the rule book,” said Lenka Simon, Berkelium’s co-team manager. “Then we’ll split off. Some people start prototyping. Some people split off into a more in-depth strategy meeting where we talk about what we specifically want to focus on. What are some things that will be important in this game, and how do we want to achieve them.”
For some members of Team Berkelium, the highlights of the kickoff are the ideas floating around immediately afterwards. “I love hearing the creativity,” said James Underwood, one of Berkelium’s team captains. “Within a few days, things start getting very serious. What can we achieve? What can we actually build? On that first day, there’s a lot of really creative ideas. And that’s just really cool to see.”
Team Berkelium has decided to have small groups of people each working on a different aspect of the robot. For example, one group will be focused on picking up cones, and another will be focused on making sure the robots can drive onto its station. This year, the way the small groups are created has changed.
Before, the team was isolated dependent on trades. Programming people would stay together, and fabrication people would be together when working on projects. However, now students from all different skills work together.
The members of Team Berkelium have already accomplished a lot. They’ve decided on their priorities. They’ve created a prototype for the cube picker-upper and shooter, as well as the prototype for the cone shooter. They’ve also begun doing some design work on geometry.
The workload following kickoff is expected to be intense.
“We’ve had about 20 hours of meetings in the week following kickoff,” Underwood said.
“It’s definitely a lot of time spent,” Lenka said. “It’s a lot of effort to create a working robot in this short period of time. Hopefully people enjoy it. I certainly enjoy it. Kind of just about putting in the work.”
Simon shared her strategies for dealing with burnout during competition season.
“Try taking a step back from things and delegating tasks. Or focusing on different things, if you were prototyping last week, maybe this week, you could do some coding or something else,” she said.
Team Berkelium will continue creating, testing, and refining their robot until their first competition in about six months. Team Berkelium’s first competition will actually be in Victoria, Canada.
Despite being stressful, competitions are a favorite activity for many members on the team. “It’s performance time,” Underwood said. “All the work you’ve done so far is now being presented to the whole world. Seeing what everyone else comes up with is also cool. There’s some really creative robots out there. It’s just a lot of fun, and the energy in the room is amazing.”
When members of Team Berkelium were asked about the best part of being on the team, “the community” was a consistent answer.
“The community, and the friends you make,” Simon said. “I think that’s what most people will tell you. You come because you’re interested in STEM, and interested in doing robotics. And you stay because you’ve made friends there.”