Courtesy of Pinellas County Schools
Alex Wisner is a senior at East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs, Florida. But he’s also one of the leaders of the school’s FIRST Robotics Competition program. Globally, the program consists of over 91,000 students, all working to build robots that can outperform the competition.
“There are a lot of students in the program, but only 40 at our school. Between classes, homework and everything else, we still could never get ahead on data collection,” said Wisner. “We also ended up buried in a sea of paperwork. We needed a better way, and a mentor of mine introduced us to AppSheet.”
Cost controls and time management with apps
Robotics competitions require lots of scouting and data collection. Team members will watch competitions in person, checking out performance and specifications of each robot. Outside of direct match scouting, pit scouting is a secondary component on which teams are judged. This element judges the teams on their ability to scout and report on the hundreds of decommissioned robots.
All in all, one day of scouting could mean notes on hundreds of robots and matches per day—all before the actual final rounds of the competition begin. In years past, this has meant between 600 to 1,000 pieces of paper with disjointed notes that could not be easily gathered, stored, tracked or acted upon.
Now throw in the fact that no member of the robotics team is around for more than 4 years. The turnover complicates the idea of consistency for the program. But with a cloud-based app, the team has a data-driven strategy for continuity and success.
East Lake Robotics gets the AppSheet advantage
Last year, the club tried to make its own prototype app. But because there were interoperability issues and glitches as all devices were not supported, the team wanted to consider other alternatives. They decided to start fresh with AppSheet.
“I do have ample coding experience,” said Alex, “but it would have taken me 4 to 5 hours of work every day for nearly a month to build a similar app. Because AppSheet is so intuitive, and its UI is so simple, I built the working prototype for our app in maybe two or three weeks, just in my spare time.”
The results to date have been considerable.
No wifi, no problem: Competition guidelines do not allow for Internet access during competition. Fortunately, East Lake Robotics has been able to use their app without an Internet connection, gathering data without any downtime.
Costs savings: High school clubs don’t typically get the budgets they need, or want. So when Alex was able to find a solution that cut pallets of paper from their annual budget, it was a lifesaver.
Time management: Time, too, is money. So when the team doesn’t have to commit hours a day to building or maintaining an app—let alone gathering and sorting data—it becomes freed up to utilize precious resources elsewhere.
Only the beginning
The FIRST Robotics Competition program operates under a code of “Gracious Professionalism”. So while all teams are seeking a win, the nature of the event is one of collaboration and innovation. That said, Alex hopes to share his team’s app with other competitors in the future. This will in turn help to inspire greater final products and push each group to be their best.
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Gwen is a marketer with AppSheet. Prior to AppSheet, she was a digital marketer, a journalist and editor, a translator, and a college teacher. She has a master with Duke University in Environmental Science and an MBA with University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.