Sharp Students Build Robots, Patents, and More
Abby Audet looks and acts like most girls her age. She loves hanging out with her friends, listening to music, and just being an American teenager. But Abby has some special talents: she can also tell you everything you could ever need to know about field control systems, touch multiplexers, infrared beacons, and much more.
Abby builds robots.
Actually, her team builds robots. Abby is the vibrant captain of one of the FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC®) teams at Westlake High School in Austin, TX. FTC is part of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which challenges students from around the world to organize teams to build robots for specially designed competitions each year.
The teams are set up very much like start-up technology companies. Guided by bright, energetic mentors and coaches from the community, most students focus only on one part of the process: design, prototyping, marketing, fund-raising, communications, the list goes on.
As captain of her team, The Westlake Pi-Rho Maniacs, Abby has a hand in every aspect of her team. She’s a very smart sophomore. She handles the Industrial Design aspect of her team’s robot, which won her team an award giving them an invitation to the 2014 FIRST Championship. At Championship, the Pi-Rho Maniacs won last season’s FedEx Innovation Challenge, a social media competition that awarded two winning teams a grant for their team to use in future competitions.
The FedEx Innovation Challenge motivated students to express their creative side, allowing each team’s marketing or social media lead to play a purposeful active role during championships. Submissions were made via Instagram and Twitter, using #FedEx and #OMGRobots hashtags, and were judged on accuracy, creativity, and team spirit.
“140 characters are not enough to express how thankful we are and how much this means” was the immediate response from Pi-Rho Maniacs social media lead John Saxton.
Winning the FedEx Innovation Challenge has helped tremendously with the financing and creation of two new FTC teams at Westlake High School for this season. The school now has a total of six FTC teams, and one team in the highest level of FIRST, the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC®). FRC 2468 Team Appreciate is the varsity program at the school. Westlake is proud to boast about 120+ students involved in FIRST® competitions this year, and the school has embraced robotics, offering three robotics classes and even getting a cameo for one of its robots in the recent movie Transformers 4.
“The atmosphere with FIRST competitions is very special, with so many like-minded people being together, doing what they love and sharing their talents. FIRST just feels like such a wonderful community.” Abby says.
Abby is not the only brilliant young mind in Team Appreciate. The program is filled with exceptional students. Rachel Gardner, who ‘graduated’ from the FTC program to the FRC program last year as a sophomore, is the technical lead for the program’s Chap Research team. Chap Research develops products and solutions that help robotics teams worldwide. One of these innovations is the ChapR, a handheld remote control for FTC robots. For her work on the ChapR, Rachel and her teammates have achieved a first for a Westlake student and Team Appreciate – being named a primary inventor on a patent disclosure.
A second innovation from this team is the string potentiometer – a lightweight, cost-effective solution for a common design problem faced by FRC teams on a regular basis. Team Appreciate has commercialized the component and collects royalties that help offset their own robot build and competition costs.
These students perfectly showcase an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit that in many ways mirrors our own culture and history. FedEx is proud to donate shipping for FIRST, as well as provide grants for use by rookie teams around the world.