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A Look Back at Two Weeks of FIRST

In my last blog, Teaching the Next of Generation Engineers, I discussed how the FIRST program helps bring up the next generation of engineers. I talked about my experience at the FIRST championships in Houston and was right in the middle of the FIRST championships in Saint Louis. It was quite an experience all around. I have to admit that it was an exhausting experience as well. I travelled with two of my colleagues to Houston on a Tuesday and returned on Sunday only to head back out to Saint Louis on the subsequent Tuesday with another return trip on Sunday. It was quite a turn around to make the trips back to back especially with such long days. On a typical day we would arrive at the booth in the pit area around 8:30 AM, have an occasional break, and head out of the pit area around 6:00 PM. On several days we were there until 8:00 or 9:00 PM. It was challenging but quite an enjoyable experience to see these young folks work together towards an incredible goal.

As I looked around towards the end of the week in Saint Louis thinking how exhausted I was I couldn’t help but notice the amount of kids and parents that were scattered here and there taking a break for some much needed sleep. It put things in perspective when I realized the pit area opened to the teams at 6:45AM on the final day in both Houston and Saint Louis. For those teams in the final championship in Houston their day did not finish until around 10:30PM and for those in Saint Louis their day did not finish until around 8:00PM. During that time they were constantly working on their robots to fix things as needed and to make tweaks based on their performance in their matches. I can only imagine however the pure thrill, excitement, and joy on the winning Daly alliance teams when that final match score was tallied up and they were announced the winners.

All that hard work had paid off with the win. It was great to have an ADI sponsored team, Team 254 – The Cheesy Poofs, on the winning alliance. While there was much excitement for the winning alliance there was plenty of other excitement as well in both cities. It is quite an accomplishment for these teams to make this stage. There were even several first year teams at the championships which is a huge accomplishment. I challenge anyone to experience this event and not walk away changed. I thought before I left the topic of FIRST that I’d give a bit more than a passing perspective on the technology that we demonstrated at FIRST during the two weeks of championships in Houston and Saint Louis.

If you recall from my last blog the ADI demonstrations included a gyroscope and an inertial measurement unit (IMU) that were available to the FIRST FRC teams, a communications system, an IMU in a small toy jet with and instrument view on a PC cockpit (Advanced IMU Demo), and a 24 GHz radar. I’ve highlighted each of these in the photograph below.

ADI Demonstrations at FIRST

ADI Demonstrations at FIRST

We had several discussions with different teams both in Houston and Saint Louis and got mostly positive response from the teams that utilized the gyroscope or the IMU in their robots (items shown in the demo on the left side of the photograph). The teams used these sensors to help with direction and position of their robots. These devices help keep the robot oriented in a straight line without drifting to one side or another. One of my colleagues at the championships was actively tweaking the example software code available for these devices based on feedback provided from the teams.

My background as many of you may already know from reading my blogs is in high speed ADCs. I brought along a demo that I gave at the IMS show in Phoenix last year which illustrates a receive signal chain for a cellular communications tower. There are several different ICs on the ADC evaluation board, amplifier evaluation board, and the data capture board that comprise the demo. It was quite fun to see the wide eyed looks of many of these young folks when they saw just how much was going on with these boards. However, explaining how this system is an example of the radio in the cellular tower that their mobile phones would communicate with helped this demo make much more sense to them. I did get some great opportunities to dive into the details of the demo with several mentors who work in engineering.

We also had an advanced IMU demo with a unit that is an example of what would be used in a commercial aircraft or even a military aircraft. This demo was the biggest hit in both Houston and Saint Louis. The colleague I mentioned above generated the software GUI that made this demo incredibly cool. It was great to see the reactions from young folks and adults alike as we encourage folks to pick the plane up, move it around, and observe the computer screen. My colleague had set up the GUI to interpret the IMU data to show the view from a plane cockpit move depending on the orientation of the toy plane. The instrument panel would also adjust accordingly and even a map on the cockpit view would change depending on the toy plane’s orientation. It was a fun demo to show folks for sure.

The demo on the right in the photo was also a very neat demo to show folks. It utilizes two transmit antennas to send out a 24 GHz signal and then utilizes four receive antennas to receive the reflected waves. It takes the reflected waves and interprets the distance and velocity of an object. The many team buttons and the fidget spinners made for great ways to show off this demo since the metal in these objects did a great job of reflecting the 24 GHz waves back into the receive antennas on the demo. Speaking of I should mention that we had some great buttons for giveaways. We also had some nice backpacks and stickers. These of course were all hits with the young folks as well as the parents and mentors.

It was such a fun event to be a part of and have the opportunity to see the results of all the hard work all the teams had put into their robots. It was great to be able to showcase some of the technology that was used in the robots as well as talk about all the great technology that ADI has to offer. I had the pleasure of telling folks about all the technology areas that ADI develops products for and how they impact folks each day in the items they use and even sometimes take for granted. ADI is a great place to work for with many talented individuals where so much interesting technology is developed and applied in many different markets. I hope to see some of these young folks in the future enjoying a great career at companies like ADI. There is so much ingenuity and talent on these teams and I know these kids will do great things. As I mentioned in my last blog there is a lot to learn all around from the FIRST program. Take some time and see for yourself. Go and research this amazing program at FIRST.

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