Three double-sided PCBs in three days

-February 20, 2014

I am so impressed by the not-for-profit charity FIRST  (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). As John F. Kennedy once said, “We must do all that we can, to give our children the best in education and social upbringing - for while they are the youth of today, they shall be the leaders of tomorrow.” And that of course applies to science and technology leaders as well.

FIRST was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, to inspire young people's interest and participation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). With founding sponsors and strategic partners including Boeing, GM, NASA, BAE Systems, Google and many others, FIRST has strong industry backing to promote its programs for students aged 6-18 including the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC).

FRC has been referred to as the Superbowl of Smarts. It combines the excitement and teamwork well known to sports, with science and technology, in a robotics competition for high-school students. With limited resources and strict rules to adhere to, students in groups of 10 or more mentored by professional engineers, parents and teachers, must find innovative solutions to design and build a remote controlled robot in six weeks for competition.

In fact, this year 4 teams competed to create a robot in just 3 days to play the 2014 FIRST Robotics Competition game. Team Boom Done was the winner with the ball-launching robot they affectionately named El Toro. In an effort to share information and provide insight to students everywhere, Team Boom Done documented the steps to El Toro’s creation on Twitter (@TeamBoomDone) including its mechanical CAD drawing shown below and bill of materials (BoM).

Figure 1. Boom Done’s CAD assembly

El Toro’s 7-segment LED display required three double-sided PCBs. This was no small order considering the team had only 3 days to build the entire robot. While they could have used a laser printer to make the PCBs they needed, they opted to use an in-house PCB milling machine, the LPKF ProtoMat S103, to instantly and accurately produce the circuitry needed to complete the robot.

For a complete list of El Toro’s main subsystems and to understand how it works, Team Boom Done has graciously put together and published online a capabilities document. The document describes El Toro’s theory of operation including details of all of its mechanisms, electronics, and software.

Figure 2. Team Boom Done’s winning robot El Toro

I don’t know about you, but Team Boom Done and the FIRST Robotics Competition has inspired me to get involved to encourage youth in my area to study science and technology and consider a career in engineering. I plan to attend the Festival de Robotique, March 20-22, 2014 in Montreal and invite you to visit an event in your area to watch as teams compete in thrilling robot matches.

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