At our kick-off webinar, Wednesday 20 September 2023, we invited Scott Buchanan from team Digital Pancakes, UK-344, Friend’s Grammar School, Lisburn to make a real difference in the FIRST UK community by offering his invaluable skills and pearls of wisdom with fellow CENTERSTAGE teams. Having taken part in FIRST Tech Challenge UK for the past 2 years, Scott is the only returning member to carry on the Digital Pancakes legacy after impressively bagging the Regional Winning Alliance and Inspire Award at the Northern Ireland Tournament last season. Above and beyond their expectations, the team of six went on to be crowned at the National Championship Winning Alliance for the Raytheon Technologies Division and runners-up for the Inspire Award.
The team were forthright in sharing that their quest for victory didn’t come without its challenges but proved that with the right strategy in place, hard work, dedication and a whole lot of ‘Gracious Professionalism’, you can rise to the occasion triumphantly.
Here’s what Scott shared on the day as he gave us a sneak peak into Digital Pancake’s success, how they overcame challenges and some advice for new team’s beginning their FIRST Tech Challenge pursuit.
Team name: Digital Pancakes
Team number: UK-344, 21000
School: Friend’s Grammar School
Years of participation: 2
Awards: Northern Ireland Regional Winning Alliance, Northern Ireland Regional Inspire Award, National Winning Alliance (Raytheon Technologies Division), runners-up for the National Inspire Award
Social media: Follow Digital Pancakes on Instagram @friends_robotics
The first thing we do every single time is watch the RTX game animation that’s uploaded to YouTube. It’s an incredibly useful video as it gives you a really quick overview of how to score points and how you might lose points through different penalties. It’s definitely a good idea to bring all the team together in one room, (even if you have multiple teams) to watch the video because not only can you learn the scores as a group but you can also brainstorm and bounce ideas off of each other that you might not have individually considered and begin sketching those flowing thoughts. Always have a think about what you can do with this challenge and how you can make it work for your team.
When we went to Cambridge for the National Championship, there were some teams that had robots completely different to anything we’d ever seen in Northern Ireland so it’s great to draw inspiration from them as well. If you think your idea might be insignificant, write it down and document it anyway because it probably will be significant at some point in the future, even if it just shows your stages of design in your engineering portfolio.
This is one of the toughest aspects we find going into the seasons as it’s such a tight schedule, especially if you’re doing GCSEs or A levels and even things outside of school that take up your time. Since we’ve got a completely new team membership this year, we’ve decided to reset all of our roles. We’ve got 2 main groups of the ‘hardware team’ and the ‘software team’, with specific roles within these 2 segments. Outside of these roles we have a Treasurer and a Social Media Manager which is vital to help the team keep a track of valuable things you might overlook like social media which helps you interact with other schools, keep up with what they’re doing and share ideas. Budgeting was another thing we found really challenging. It’s good to have somebody set apart to find sponsorships, to manage the team’s money and see what extra parts you can afford.
Another great thing we did to make sure the tasks went along schedule was write down a road map with major accomplishments. You don’t necessarily need dates for when they should be completed, but just an order of what you want to achieve. This really broke down the daunting challenge of making an entire robot into small bitesize steps that we could work on and really see the progress that we were making throughout the year. When it’s getting hectic, it’s good to have that structure of what you’re doing next and what you’re looking forward to doing after that.
The two main challenges we faced in the past two years were ordering parts and sorting out our budget. Ordering parts was such a massive issue because the parts are not manufactured in Great Britain so have to be shipped over from the USA. Especially here in Northern Ireland with the protocol that we had, it made it even harder to get things through Great Britain into Northern Ireland. So make sure you always order your parts in advance to ensure there’s no delays with shipping. The shipping fees can even increase if you order late and there are certain deals that Rev Robotics did last year if you ordered by a certain date so always look out to see if you’re able to get a good deal early on. Even though we had sponsorships, you will find it’s quite tight finding a balance between the amount of money available to spend on parts and making sure that it’s a functional robot that’s fit to compete on competition day and this is where having a team member responsible for budgeting helps.
The main thing that we found useful was being really unafraid to get involved. Talk to other teams and make sure you’re able to glean information from them because there are so many schools, for example The Wallace High School just across the road from us, that had done the competition a couple of years before us who we were able to really learn from. We learnt from what they did right, the mistakes they made, how they were able to develop such a good team and considered how we could go beyond that. Have a look on social media as well and contact different teams to see what they’re getting up to and if they have any ideas that differ from what you have that you can take on board to achieve the team’s goals. And quite frankly, in the end, gracious professionalism is always the way to go. Make sure you’re able to foster a healthy rivalry between yourself and the other schools. Not that you’re against each other, but working together towards a shared goal and able to make a robot that really incorporates all the ideas you gather to make sure it’s in its best form.
Thank you Scott for adding immense value to our 2023-24 kick off webinar by helping newer teams find their feet and ensuring returning teams can elevate their performance this season.