- What a Haas-some Machine!
A while back, we were in search of a CnC machine (Computer Numerical Control machine) that is used for metal and other various materials.
Before the machine, we didn’t have a very efficient way to make parts for our robots in our own shop. This resulted in us finding very inventive ways to make parts: we’d get crafty, we’d lean on sponsors (like IMP), and occasionally our robot friends would make or cut parts for us (thanks, y’all)! Integrated Metal Products (IMP) knew that we were looking for a machine when they were buying their own, and very generously helped us find and purchase one for our shop! We settled on a HAAS VF-0E CnC vertical milling machine, an older model with some charm to it.
As expected, when the HAAS first arrived it was in need of some TLC. We set it up & were ready to start making some parts but it was unresponsive, so we did some troubleshooting and found a few main things that may have been causing the machine to misbehave. First, several wires had come loose during transport; this was the easy fix. Next, the HAAS needed a replacement on its quick exhaust valve, as the old one was leaking and wouldn’t hold the correct pressure. With our older model, we knew it would be difficult to find a valve that would fit our machine. Finally, the machine needed an intensive cleaning. It took a few weeks and a lot of elbow grease to find the main issues with the machine, but after we located them, we got to work. Many updates, tweaks, and tests later, it was finally working properly!
It was also finally ready for tooling! We then made it to a key milestone: it produced its first chips. The HAAS modifies a workpiece through the removal of a material. The material that is being extracted is a chip. With this accomplished, we were able to finally say that we could begin to use the machine without any long-term issues ahead.
After many weeks of trying to get this machine to work properly, we didn’t give up, and now everything on the HAAS is completely operational! We’re looking forward to using this machine to make many parts, especially considering the new HAAS speeds up our iterating time (because we can test a part, make changes to the design, or cut a new one).
Lastly, we would like to again thank IMP for alerting us about the machine and helping us purchase it at a price we could afford!
- 🤠New Howdy Bots Shop🤠
After 4 seasons of being stuck in a tiny garage, the Howdy Bots NEEDED to get more space. Our original limit was 10-15 students, but then we somehow hit 19 students! We then decided to freeze recruiting until we’d gotten more room, because there was simply not enough space to get work done.
However, looking for a shop was tough. It took some time to find one that fit our needs… we can be rather picky, and toured 50 different locations. After months of looking and hoping, we finally found a space that was perfect for our team! It has enough room to fit a field, a mezzanine for storage, enough parking spaces, bathrooms, an office space, and is within our budget! As of April of 2020, it’s officially leased to ATX Robotics!
But we needed to clean it up first. Everything was dusty, grimy, and filled with cobwebs.
The warehouse came with an additional bonus of an ugly and shabby storage building that was waiting to fall down and needed to go, so we removed it immediately. And then we cleaned everything up! Next it was time to pack up and leave our mentor’s garage for good!
Once the mentor’s garage was cleared out of all Howdy Bot items and put into numerous storage boxes, we could start moving everything into the warehouse! A line of clutter from the garage and scatterings of tools, parts, and machines. After a few weeks of sorting, we had the shop in usable condition. It wasn’t perfect by any means and we still have a lot of work to do, but we finally have a designated functional shop.
Howdy Bot Headquarters 2.0 will be able to hold 30-40 students comfortably, allowing us to expand as a team when the time comes, and recruit as many local students as are interested.
Now that we have a new shop we have plenty of room to dedicate spaces to certain uses, like our Field area! We can finally keep a quarter field up at all times to practice or test the robot on, soon we will get more carpet to expand to half a field!
When we were back in our head mentors’ garage finding space to drive the robot could sometimes be a big challenge, especially if it was raining and we all had to stay in the garage. Our field area is in the corner by our CNC machine and mechanical area.
One of the perks of having your own space is having the room for better equipment, like having our own CNC machine. The CNC will allow us to do more machining in less time, previously requiring the back breaking work of a manual saw. Its current home is sitting in the far left corner of the shop, giving it enough room and keeping the noise to a minimum. A custom table that one of our mentors built holds the CNC and all the tools needed to use it. Across from this is a desk with a computer for programming the CNC’s function.
Adjacent to the CNC machine is our mechanical area, home to our parts, tools, machines, and anything and everything exciting. This includes our chop saw, table saw, belt sander, drill press, pneumatic tools, hand drills, part bins, and much more.
Next our mechanical area is programming, which overlooks the field, making it faster and easier for them to test newly finished code. Previously, our coding had to be tested on an uneven driveway or living floor, so a large flat area is like heaven to the programming subteam. This is also where most of our computers live, so it shares space with our CAD subteam. The CAD area holds our two most powerful computers, so that Solidworks can be run fast and efficiently.
Our Marketing/Communications table is the safest area of the shop, and closest to snacks. It’s one of the only locations in which eye protection is not required, besides the office of our Head Mentor and Team Administrator. The office also holds our server bank and 3D printer.
The best part of moving out was seeing our Team Admin’s reaction to parking her car in her garage for the first time in FOUR years!
- How We’re Handling COVID-19
Build season was long and arduous, but by the end we had a competition-ready robot to take to Week 1 in Greenville, TX. We were fortunate to be one of the few teams who competed that first week as we had no idea things were going to change so quickly. As we arrived home from the Greenville competition, marketing was preparing to do a recap blog post & video. Mechanical and programming teams were fine-tuning the robot to make sure it was ready for the next competition. Then we heard about competitions up north cancelling due to COVID-19, but we weren’t sure yet if it was going to affect us. We all wondered if Worlds was going to happen and how many weeks of competition we’d be able to compete in. By the eve of Week 3 everything had shut down completely, including our upcoming competitions. We took some time to rest after an exhausting season while continuing to check in with what was happening around the world with the pandemic.
During mid-April, we began to meet twice a week to regroup. We wanted to figure out what was next, and what technology would best serve our team. This was all new and difficult for us since we were used to meeting in person; sharing ideas with each other virtually just isn’t the same. Although, it gave us a chance to try new technology, and we tried several different platforms including Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom calls over the coming weeks. Soon after, we had a virtual end of season party on April 25th to officially cap off our season. It was great to be together, celebrate and play some online games! We then pivoted into the off-season continuing to meet on Zoom for the larger meetings and Slack for the smaller group calls. We decided to focus on the Telethon, various off-season projects, and designing our training curriculum – the Howdy Bot spurs.
Presently, we’ve been doing an agenda at the beginning of each meeting. During meetings and in our free time, students complete & work on special projects like the Howdy-Thon. I asked a few students what they thought of virtual collaboration after having participated in a few months of it, and they observed that it was difficult in many ways. At home, there are many distractions that will drain one’s motivation from its core. Not only that, there are mechanical tasks that require close vicinity or coordination between people that is very difficult to do virtually. While there are many challenges, we’ve been working through it the best we can. We are very happy to announce that we are working on pulling off our third annual Howdy-Thon! We are currently writing, filming and editing telethon videos to present to you soon! Clear your calendar and Save-The-Date: Saturday, November 14! As it is a live- streamed event, it can still happen with all of us being separated. Stay safe and we hope to see you there!
- Brand New Howdy Bots HQ!
Howdy Bots is pleased to announce: After a lot of searching, hoping, fundraising, and hard work, Howdy Bots has a new home!! Look at those beautiful 4000 square feet of robot freedom!
Not only can we have permanent areas for manufacturing, programming, CAD, and marketing, but we can also leave a 3/4 field set-up at all times for testing and drive practice. We even have an office with ample mezzanine storage on top, and—count them, not one, but two, I say, two restrooms!
As anyone who has visited the Howdy Bots over the last four years can attest, things have been getting a bit cramped. We’re up to 19 students and 10 mentors now, and before our season was sadly cut short by COVID-19, we were meeting 29+ hours a week in our head coach’s home (goodbye, sofa!).
Team meetings, CADing, and programming all happened in this living room.
When it was cold and rainy outside, the garage door stayed down, and we couldn’t spill out into the driveway. Finding a place to drive the robot was always a challenge!
But those days are over! We still have some settling in to do, and we’re looking forward to having the Howdy Bots back in session. Thank you to all of our supporters! We couldn’t have done this without you. We can’t wait to have all our robot friends over to play!
- 2020 Change of Plans
Howdy everyone! As you may have heard, the rest of the 2020 “Infinite” Recharge season has been cancelled due to circulating virus. This is a big disappointment to all of FRC, but we are thankful that FIRST wants to protect its students and mentors from contracting sickness.
When the team found this out, we were initially upset and saddened, but immediately began to regroup and plan our next steps. We decided to reach our current goals for the 2020 robot, then move to off-season training and fundraising. We’ll still be bringing 110% to the off-season competitions that arise, but for now, we’re focusing on staying healthy and clean, and bringing our Infinite Recharge robot to desired completion.
- Greenville District Competition Recap
We just finished our first competition of the 2020 Infinite Recharge season… What a rollercoaster!
We were thrilled to win the Entrepreneurship Award! Our marketing team has been working hard to rewrite the business plan and make sure it meets our standards, and that effort paid off in this event.
Also in marketing land, we got our trailer wrapped by CarWrapCity. It looks so good! We’re excited to have our event exterior match our proud Howdy Bot interior.
Due to a close loss in our last qual match, we weren’t an alliance captain, but were very excited and honored to be selected by 5417 Eagle Robotics with 7534 Dragonflies. These teams were great to work with, and together, we made it to finals!
Unfortunately, when it came time to play in the finals, our shooter had shot all it could possibly shoot and refused to shoot anymore. We opted for a different strategy in this round, and thankfully our driver loves to play defense! Our 2019 robot, Outlaw, wasn’t built for defense, so our drive team was more than happy to put the shiny new 2020 model, Quickdraw, to the test.
As for the game, our main strategy focus was shooting power cells into the high and inner goals. One of the feature we were most excited to see in action was our 6-ball auto. Our programmers prioritized having clear and organized code this year, due to their student population increasing. Great joy was brought by their code executing nearly flawlessly.
Our alliance put up a good fight, but the awesome 1st seed earned the win. 2714 BBQ, 2468 Appreciate, and 6646 Belton Robotics! Great game, y’all!
Our next event is the Austin District event, at Vandergriff High School on March 20-21. Come to the competition or watch the official livestream to see how we improve!
- Infinite Recharge Week Six
Week six is now complete, and the end is nigh…
Our marketing subteam is still working hard to design 2020 graphics, care for sponsors, assemble a rockin’ competition pit, and much more. This year, our theme is the Asteroid Response Posse (ARP), an emergency response team to defend the city from the threat of asteroids.
Every year, we try to go to the maximum with our pit design, and this year is no less. While we will only have one pit banner, it’s our most advanced banner yet. It features three panels, each appearing as components of an emergency response group. The left panel is a news channel with the popular Star Wars characters BB-8 and D-O discussing how the game’s power shields have fallen and FIRST City’s possible doom. The middle panel is a threatening monitor with a live feed and analysis of the asteroid hurtling towards the city. Lastly, the right panel depicts a message board with several flyers and posters, including an old “Wanted” poster cameo of our 2019 robot, Outlaw.
As for our yearly wood-cut badges, the design is based on the popular Rebel Alliance logo from the Star Wars series. It features our Howdy Bot mascot in the middle, with our team number 6377 above.
We will also have personalized name tags for each student and mentor again. These will be Howdy Bot brown, with a darker rim, and include each student’s name and subteam. They’ll also depict our specially-designed asteroid logo, which will appear on our foam pit sign. This year, we opted not to cut out and paint the sign, but rather print a vinyl sticker onto foam. This is because our graphic design student has created a more complex sign than last year’s with color gradients and lots of details.
Our endeavors are limited by the number of marketing students, which is three. However, these students are putting in hours of effort every week to pull off our big ideas. Our marketing mentors are also working hard, and one created an online asteroid game in which the player is a little square spaceship, deflecting and destroying asteroids. Play the game here!
- Infinite Recharge Midseason Interviews
Week four? Check! We’re in the third level of our prototyping process, and all of our students have been busy working their individual jobs that will soon come together to make our final prototype robot.
This is Patrick. He’s a third-year on the mechanical subteam, and he’s been working with other students to build our drive train. He’s been facing issues with storage area, and has found that the construction of our chassis doesn’t leave enough room for all necessary components, such as the electronics board and weights. To fix this, he cut a 2×4 piece of wood to run down the middle of our chassis, so that additional structures can be attached. Patrick has also been learning about different types of wheels, and the pros versus cons of using pneumatic tires.
Ryland and Ayla are new students on the mechanical subteam, and have been working alongside third-year Mackenzie to build up our internal ball storage system. They’ve discovered the struggles of using polymer cord, and how its elasticity affects its variable length. They also discovered that if the cord used creates high friction, all of our power cells get stuck together and can’t be moved. They’re overcoming this by researching different belts and cords we can use instead.
Meanwhile in the programming subteam, Tyler, a third-year, and Alex, a first-year, have realized the importance of reanalyzing CTRE’s documentation each year. They found that their motor code was not deploying correctly, due to updates from last year’s system, which they hadn’t noticed. To avoid this in the future, our programmers will be sure to always check documentation for changes before operating from it.
Joe, a marketing student, has been learning how to cut our wooden badges for competition. Thanks to IMP, she was able to etch our design into test wood with an industrial laser-cutter, and learned what software errors to avoid.
But students aren’t the only Howdy Bots that have been busy this season! Jennifer is an administrative mentor who wears many hats. She coordinates our travel, food, recruiting, and grants, and oversees our accounting, space, and overall well-being. This week, she’s been collecting fees for our week 1 competition and ensuring that all of the logistics are planned out. It’s tough to be the general supervisor of our entire team, but Jennifer handles it with patience and efficiency.
It’s the beginning of week 5, and these Howdy Bots are moving at full speed! Stay tuned to social media for regular updates on our upcoming milestones.
- Infinite Recharge Week 3
Wow, week 3 is already over! Halfway to competitions…. Who’s ready?? Our subteams have been working hard to make sure that we are!
Our CAD for prototype mechanisms was all completed over the past week, and our final prototypes are almost complete. Last week, we were only just starting to assemble our final prototype mechanisms for testing!
Our final mechanisms’ CAD has begun, so most of the final parts should be designed and ordered within the next week. Thanks to our materials sponsor, IMP, we’re able to cut parts quickly, allowing more time for CAD to finalize designs.
Our code for autonomous driving and the chassis is complete, and the turret code is mostly finished. Code for the power cells’ shooter, intake, and storage is pending on design completion. Our programming population grew in the off-season, so we’ve hit the ground running with some new students to train on LabView!
Marketing has been working hard as well, on competition preparation and business plan writing. We’ve also finished our 2020 t-shirt look, and are continuing to design the pit theme.
Week three has been busy across the board, but we’ve made the most of our time! Stay tuned to see how our final CAD and mechanisms turn out over week 4 and 5.
- Infinite Recharge Week 2
Second week of build season and the Howdy Bots are still full steam ahead!
Prototypes, prototypes, prototypes! Our programming and mechanical subteams have been hard at work with constructing and coding various versions of our top ideas from week one. This season we’re challenging ourselves by building multiple types of mechanisms that we’ve never tried before, including a new chassis style and ball ejector system. We’re really excited to see them function soon and are already learning so much!
One design we have for ejecting power cells is a fly-wheel shoot, which we built from wood for testing. For a rudimentary first prototype, its accuracy proved to be surprisingly consistent.
Our intake to gather power cells from the ground has been drawn in CAD with all major dimensions, and is constructed from laser-cut wood pieces. The storage of power cells within the robot body has also been drawn in CAD.
But of course you can’t have an FRC robot without a chassis! (Unless you’re REALLY creative…). The first version of our robot drive train frame has been drawn in CAD, constructed, and coded with all the foundational functions. Pretty soon, it will be driving and operational! Our programmers have also been occupied with testing limelight distances, and writing structural code for the shooter mechanism.
On the opposite side of the galaxy, marketing has been creating a unique pit backstory for competition with banners, designing our cowboy brown t-shirts. As per Howdy Bot signature, we will be laser-cutting our badges from wood!
Our goals for week three include getting the chassis fully functional, finalizing our pit design ideas, and constructing sturdier robot mechanisms. Stay posted for our progress!