Robotics: New JV and varsity FTC teams promote participation

October 23, 2018 — by Rohan Kumar

By creating teams of equal skill, work is distributed evenly instead of experienced members doing most of the work.

In efforts to change the team dynamics of the previous year, the robotics club has introduced JV and varsity teams to its FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) division this year.

FTC is a robotics competition in which teams build robots to complete various tasks that each involve unique mechanics. Throughout the season, which started on Sept. 8 and will continue for approximately six months, the FTC teams will compete in qualifying tournaments, the first of which will be on Nov. 13 for Varsity and Nov. 18 for the other teams.

Instead of having two veteran teams for returning students and two rookie teams, the two veteran teams have been replaced by one varsity team whose members are chosen based on experience, skill and mentor opinion, as well as a JV team composed of other returning students. There continues to be two rookie teams, similar to previous years.

Senior Derek Chiou, who has been a part of the FTC program since he was a freshman and is now the varsity hardware lead, was the first to suggest these changes.

“Most teams only have a few super hard workers,” Chiou said, “and since this is my last year, I thought it would be neat to set up a super experienced and hardworking team to see if we could make Saratoga history.”

In addition to grouping stronger team members together, the new system also substantially improves team dynamics for both the varsity and JV teams.

With members on both teams having similar skill levels to each other, one person shouldering the brunt of the work is no longer a problem.

“I think it helps that way because when you have people of different levels on the same team it sort of skews the work,” junior Sahaj Rastogi, the varsity software lead, said. “So if you have people of the same level on the same team, it nicely splits it up.”

This more equal division of labor is a significant improvement from last year, where three or four members of a 15-person team were responsible for the construction and coding of the entire robot.

“The load has lightened up a bit, definitely,” Rastogi said.

For members of the JV team, the changes in terms of skill level have been apparent.

“Now, everyone’s on about the same level,” said sophomore JV member William Yin. “Everyone participates equally and if someone doesn’t, then people on our team immediately go and try to help them.”

By lessening the skill gap among team members, the system helps encourage students in the JV team to take more responsibility than they would normally have taken.

Meanwhile, the varsity team, with dedicated members who often spend over 30 hours each week working on the robot, have already seen significantly increased efficiency. The team was able to complete a robot capable of accomplishing every task in the challenge within five weeks.

Although the new system provides many benefits, one potential problem is having too much talent on one team.

“I don’t see the split teams as a problem of putting all our eggs in one basket, but more so creating more opportunities for those with different levels of time commitment,” Chiou said.

By creating more opportunities, the new system allows students on the JV team to derive greater benefits from being a part of the program even though they may not perform as well as they would have without the new system.

“All in all, the people on varsity are able to participate in an environment where there is a level of  higher commitment,” Chiou said, “and the people on JV are now forced to step up and take the lead in order to get things done.”