Impressions from PTC LiveWorx 2023 FIRST Robotics

Petra Gartzen and Peter Maskell, Senior consultants at Cambashi, recently attended PTC #LiveWorx 2023.

At the PTC #LiveWorx 2023 conference in Boston, we had a conversation with a high school robotics team. These talented students, hailing from a nearby school, had achieved significant success in national and international competitions.

The FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) stands out as a great opportunity for high school students. FRC challenges teams to design, build, and program robots to compete in an annual challenge, fostering teamwork, problem-solving, and practical application of STEM skills. Students collaborate with mentors and industry professionals, gaining valuable technical expertise and developing vital interpersonal abilities.

For the competition, the teams were given a six-week timeframe to design and build a robot that would compete in the event. Starting from eighth grade, the program spans up to the students’ senior year, allowing for continuous learning and improvement. In this competition, the team we spoke to, had to develop a robot capable of a range of tasks, such as picking up and stacking cones and interacting with inflatable balls. 

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One notable aspect of this program is the emphasis on collaboration and knowledge sharing among participants, which includes learning from peers instead of relying solely on teachers. Every step of the process is carefully documented to ensure that newcomers can benefit from the experiences and insights of their predecessors. This approach not only eliminates the need to reinvent the wheel but also fosters a culture of building upon existing knowledge.

Learning from peers instead of teachers offers several advantages. Firstly, it creates a comfortable environment where students can freely ask for help without hesitation, even on seemingly trivial matters. While teachers are encouraging and helpful, there is often a perception that it is easier to approach someone within your peer group. Secondly, this collaborative dynamic works both ways, as the person offering help also improves their own skills through training and explaining concepts to others.

PTC, a supporter of the FIRST Robotics program, plays an important role in its facilitation. The teams utilized PTC’s cloud-based and browser-based software, Onshape, a PTC Technology, which is freely available for educational use. The students found it advantageous, especially during the pandemic, as they could continue their work from home using low-spec PCs such as Chromebooks, rather than high-end workstations typically required for CAD software. The team’s school provided them with a well-equipped shop – including a 3D printer – and the ability to manufacture parts. (Sadly, the reference to “Tea, Earl Grey, hot.” was lost on this Next Generation).

Looking ahead, the students hope for continued advancements in technology that will streamline the process of transferring data from Onshape to the manufacturing and 3D printing aspects of their projects. They also value the accessibility of browser-based software and its potential to empower more students with limited resources to pursue their passions.

The students were thrilled and inspired by the recognition PTC gave them by providing floor space at the LiveWorx conference, which left them bubbling with enthusiasm. The robotics team members took advantage of the conference to learn about various implementations of technology and gained insights into the business aspect of product development. For example, they had first-hand experiences engaging with salespeople and marketers, as they were responsible for their own fundraising efforts. This exposure revealed that robotics and technology encompass more than just engineering and coding; they also involve aspects of running a business.

An encouraging observation was the fact that the team was led by two young women, a detail that struck a chord with us. The team leaders shared their excitement about initiatives in place to encourage girls to pursue coding and technology-related fields. The robotics program’s commitment to inclusivity and gender balance was evident, with a 50/50 ratio of boys and girls. This diversity bodes well for the future, as it creates a more representative and inclusive industry.

The encounter with this inspiring robotics team at the PTC LiveWorx 2023 conference showcased the dedication, talent, and enthusiasm of young minds in the field of robotics. Their accomplishments and commitment serve as a reminder that the future of technology lies not only in technical expertise but also in the creative and entrepreneurial spirit that drives innovation forward.

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