And so it began, what we had worked towards months before kickoff.

At the Tri-C campus in downtown Cleveland, the FRC Moonshots had gathered, bright and early, at 9:00 in the morning on a Saturday, for the Kickoff of the 2016 season. The video itself was, admittedly, fairly tedious. Over an hour of interviews and talks, but the payoff was more than worth it. The competition, FIRST Stronghold, left us, quite simply, speechless.

Immediately, the gears started turning. While waiting in line to receive our Kit of Parts, ideas were thrown around, from articulated arms to a robot aircraft carrier that had autonomous drones. The excitement was tangible.

The first week was filled with a flurry of ideas, some kept, some thrown out, and then some brought back. Of course, in comparison with a more experienced team, we must have seemed incredibly inefficient, but though the first five days yielded no physical results, a list of priorities were made, the first of which was the drive train.

What makes the drive train so important is that it’s what allows our robot to move. Without it, we might as well not even attend the competition. But this year, it’s even more important. An aspect of the competition is getting past certain obstacles. Some of them involve lifting gates, pulling down drawbridges, or opening doors. But the majority of the obstacles are non-mechanical obstacles, like a trough that the robot has to drive over or two ramps facing opposite directions, etc. These type of obstacles require that the robot is able to drive over them, using this all too important drive train.

Initially, we were planning on using treads. It seemed that this would provide traction, we thought, and AndyMark (the supplier of parts) was selling prefabricated treads. It seemed to be an easy and simple solution – until we learned they would be out of stock for two to three weeks. Despite this, we thought it’d be OK to wait.

However, after talking with a brother of a team member who had participated in FIRST (and went to Caltech too), we learned of many compelling reasons for using pneumatic wheels instead. Pneumatic wheels had been bounced around for a while as well, but the treads we saw were pretty cool-looking, so we convinced ourselves to use the treads – initially. The reasons were simple – firstly, three weeks of waiting around was too inefficient; secondly, the surfaces of the obstacles we had to traverse were hard – treads were useless for more traction there; thirdly, pneumatic wheels were versatile and being used by many experienced teams.

Hence, we decided that pneumatic wheels were probably the better way to go. With that being said, the past weekend has been incredibly productive – the most productive six hours of the entire season. Over the course of two days, we constructed the default drive train using the chassis given. Even more impressive, however, is the difference in time it took the team to build the first half of the chassis (four hours) and the second half (two hours). According to my math, that means when we put together the next chassis with the larger wheels, it’ll only take us one hour.

Going forward, we’ll have a functional base to work with, from designing to coding. It might not be much, but it’s definitely a start for us, and an exciting one at that.

— Daniel

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