For those who dream of engineering missions on alien planets, there is no better teacher than experience. Parker Aerospace may not engineer robots to load alien planet samples on rockets and cargo spacecraft for another century. However, this past year Parker was involved in exactly this challenge with FIRST and their annual FIRST Robotics Competition Regional, a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) challenge for students around the world.
While the theme for the challenge rotates, this year the competition was organized around a space exploration concept. Parker is one of many sponsor organizations that include Boeing, Collins Aerospace, 3M, LEGO, NASA, Lockheed Martin, Motorola, Disney, and many others who made this season of FIRST Robotics possible.
Inspiring youth with STEM education
Founded in 1989, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) was created to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. This nonprofit organization designs innovative programs that build self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills while motivating young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math. Also working in a competitive environment, FIRST makes a point to teach Gracious Professionalism™ as its ethos for interpersonal conduct.
FIRST offers different programs to target many age groups:
- Grades K-4: FIRST LEGO® League Jr. challenges children to explore a scientific concept, then build a model and create code to move it
- Grades 4-8: FIRST LEGO® League gives students the chance to develop, design, build, and code robots to perform autonomous “missions” with solutions to a real-world problem
- Grades 7-12: FIRST Tech Challenge organizes teams of up to 15 students to explore STEM through designing, building, programming, and operating robots to play a competition challenge in an alliance format
- Grades 9-12: FIRST Robotics Competition takes the Tech Challenge further with limited time and resources along with larger robots, assigning teams to build and program robots to perform challenging tasks in alliance with other teams
The organization has more than 530,000 students, 60,000 teams, and 80 countries that participate annually.
Destination: Deep Space
For 2019 the theme was space exploration with “FIRST Launch” with the details of enabling vehicles that work on another. This includes a very detailed set of rules that define parameters for the game, arena, robots, humans, safety, conduct, construction, and more.
For the high school students participating in the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), the competition was named Destination: Deep Space. In this scenario, two competing alliances collect samples on an alien planet. With only 2:30 minutes until liftoff, the alliances must gather as many cargo pods as possible and prepare their spaceships.
This competition uses robots to load a hatch panel at a loading station depot. Six cargo items (orange balls) can be loaded in each of the depots after the hatch panel is installed. Each team may pre-load one hatch panel and a cargo ball, otherwise, these must be retrieved from stations and assembled or collected.
At the beginning of each game, an imaginary sandstorm limits driver visibility, so robots independently follow pre-programmed instructions or are operated by human drivers via video feedback from their driver stations. Alliances can score points during this period by:
- Deploying robots from the starting habitat
- Preparing rockets and cargo ships with hatch panels
- Loading cargo pods into their rockets and cargo ship
At T-minus 2:15 the sandstorm clears, and human operators take control of their robots with full visibility. The alliances continue to score points by:
- Preparing rockets and cargo ship with hatch panels
- Loading more cargo pods
- Returning the robot safely to the alliances habitat
To make the competition more challenging, the habitat includes an elevated platform that the robot can climb onto at the end of the match. Various bonus points can be scored while penalty points can also be incurred. At T-minus 0 the rockets liftoff and the round ends. The alliance with the highest score at the end of the match wins.
Parker Aerospace sponsorship and volunteers
As a sponsor organization, Parker Aerospace was matched with one of the teams, Troy Robotics from Troy High School in Fullerton, California. Parker is a financial sponsor of the team for FIRST Robotics Competition, and also partners with the Troy school to provide a summer internship program for students.
For the last nine years, Troy students have participated over the course of weeks on a range of hands-on engineering projects with Parker Aerospace’s Control Systems Division and, this year, with Parker’s Customer Support Operations. Students have worked on circuit design, coding projects, fixture overhaul, database management, documentation, and software evaluation.
For the FIRST Robotics Competition Regional held at the Orange County Fair & Event Center, 15 employees volunteered this year from within Parker Aerospace for roles such as robot inspector, judge, or scorekeeper. As experienced professionals donating their time for a good cause, they shared their insight as they interacted with students.
Parker Aerospace wishes to give special recognition to team member Jenny Chung for helping to lead Parker’s efforts with FIRST. She first participated in the program as a student and is passionate about the organization because she’s experienced its benefits. For the last 13 years, she has volunteered with FIRST as an emcee, Judge Advisor (leading the judging team), a member of the FIRST Robotics Competition Orange County Regional Planning Committee, plus was a translator for international teams from China competing at the World Championship event.
Additionally, she has served as a mentor to elementary school FIRST Lego League teams and high school FIRST Robotics Competition teams. For her involvement and dedication, Jenny was named the 2019 Outstanding Volunteer of the Year by FIRST for her work in Orange County, California.
Women in STEM panel
Going a step further to share their insight with students, two Parker Aerospace employees participated in a panel discussion about women in STEM. Meghan Boyd is a value stream manager overseeing military flight control actuation and has been with Parker Aerospace for 12 years. Vivien Fang is an engineer managing aftermarket components and has worked with Parker Aerospace for five years.
A total of seven women came together to share their insight and advice from decades of working in aerospace, engineering, and manufacturing for the benefit of the students who are thinking about their future careers. Each panelist talked about her experiences, gave guidance, and took questions from the audience.
Parker Aerospace volunteers
Pictured: Jeremy DeTevis, Tasneem Bhaijee, Anna Alcala, Riza Dayapera, Mohamad “Mo” Dagher, Cynthia Mescher, Josh Bugni, Jeffrey Hsu, Austin Weems, Jenny Chung, Kevin Le, and Reza Jamasebi