Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) have always been stimulants for innovation and discovery that drive our world forward. It is therefore vital that students of all ages are inspired to explore these concepts. Interest is best fostered through challenges that stimulate and engage whilst providing practical experience. The FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is one such challenge, inspiring teams of international high-school students to get their hands dirty by designing and building competitive 50 kg robots. In FRC, students quickly learn the necessity of Computer-Aided Design (CAD). The ability to create models using CAD software is a necessity in becoming a top-tier competitor, and teaching this skill requires a sound knowledge of the software.
In Australia, Project Bucephalus competes in the FRC as team 5985. Adhering to their mission to “Create Opportunity, Transform the Community,” Project Bucephalus works on the grassroots level to engage the community with STEM learning. Dedicated high-school-aged team members and adult mentors from 5985 work to prepare today’s youth to become future leaders and innovators.
Teaching CAD to a team of high-school students presents unique problems and challenges outside the scope of most colleges, technical schools, and industries. With student rosters changing each year, constant training of novice designers is a necessity to overcome deficiency in CAD skills. Not to mention, the FRC challenge is built around tight deadlines. Andrew Clark, Project Bucephalus Lead Mentor, is no stranger to these unique problems. “In a team of high-school students, it can be difficult to gather sufficient interest to build CAD skills – and those that are proficient will inevitably graduate from the team and move on to university,” explains Clark. “FRC teams have a very limited timeframe to design, build, program, and test their robots – a typical Build Season is restricted to 6-8 weeks. Building accurate solutions in this tight deadline is incredibly challenging.”
In FRC, Project Bucephalus faces these challenges head-on by introducing students to an effective and easy-to-use CAD software solution: IronCAD. Clark says that IronCAD serves 5985 well, allowing them to iterate their designs quickly and efficiently. “IronCAD makes training easy and allows us to cope with ongoing student turnover.” Project Bucephalus first started using IronCAD in 2012, leading them to introduce the CAD software when they took up FRC in 2015. Clark explains that 5985 relies on IronCAD to design robots for competition, “IronCAD allows for greater speed of design and construction and is also used to pick up errors in sub-system interaction before they can cause problems in function.”
As their CAD software of choice for robotics competitions, Clark reveals that 5985 students chose IronCAD after trialling several other traditional CAD programs. Benefits went beyond ease of training: Clark confidently expresses how IronCAD suits the team workflow, allowing designers to quickly (and collaboratively) make simple models for prototyping, then go back over them to add more details where needed.
The CAD specialists on 5985 favours IronCAD for specific functionality: “Our CAD team says that the IronCAD TriBall tool is the best CAD positioning tool they have encountered, and they constantly feel its absence when using other CAD programs,” says Clark. He adds that the IntelliShape system is also very beneficial, as it enables the 5985 student designers to create basic models in a fraction of the time compared to other programs.
Clark notes that the introduction of IronCAD to 5985 has improved every aspect of the engineering process for competition robots. Major areas include:
- Speed: IronCAD allows for faster development of conceptual designs and prototypes. Accurate initial sizing restrictions are determined in the first week, and ongoing updates allow for detection of issues between sub-systems.
- Construction: Mechanical Sub-Teams work to designs produced by IronCAD. In 2021, each team was able to work from a custom set of plans developed within the first week of development.
- Learning: IronCAD makes it easy to teach basic CAD competencies to new students. In 2021, 16 new students were trained – the largest intake since IronCAD was introduced.
- Display: Completed IronCAD designs are incredibly useful in outlining robot design to judges and contributed to Project Bucephalus winning the Engineering Quality Award in the 2021 season.
- Results: Improved designs create better robots. Project Bucephalus has gone on to win Regional Competitions in Australia and reach the finals in the World Championships in Houston USA.
Project Bucephalus has used IronCAD to become competitive in an extremely challenging competition. The easy-to-learn and efficient software has helped 5985 mentors nurture student interest in STEM and empower their success. “The efficiency and ease of use of IronCAD means CAD can be used throughout the class/team. This then means [a] reduction in waste of both material and time,” says Clark. When asked what advice he would give to others facing the same challenges and risks, Clark had this to offer, “If you have students participating in a robotics competition (or just in a school STEM class), we highly recommend IronCAD as your designing tool. It can easily be taught to younger students, and when applied to actual construction, reinforces the importance of accurate design in the engineering process.”
About Project Bucephalus:
Based in the Australian regional city of Wollongong, Project Bucephalus encourages interest in STEM through teaching robotics to all ages and competing in the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) as team 5985. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is an international robotics program that inspires children to engage with STEM.
By creating STEM opportunities in Wollongong and beyond, the goals of Project Bucephalus are to a) normalize and celebrate participation in robotics and STEM activities and b) inspire students to develop skills that provide pathways into STEM careers.
In addition, Project Bucephalus continues to build success in the FRC on the National level whilst developing their ability to compete Internationally.