Category Archives: outreach

Introducing Strongback

Remember last April when we presented at the 2015 FIRST World Conference and talked about designing testable robot code? We mentioned possibly creating a new open source library with that code, and that got a lot of interest.

Well, over the summer we extracted the code from our team-specific codebase, restructured and documented it, and even added a bit of functionality. We still have to finish the website, but we have a web domain and discussion forums. We also have a name: Strongback.

Strongback is a new open source software library that makes your robot code lighter and stronger. You use it along with the WPILib library on your FIRST Robotics Competitionrobot’s RoboRIO, but Strongback’s APIs and functionality mean you need less code to do more. Plus, Strongback makes it easier for you to test your code without robot hardware and can record real-time data while you operate your robot for later post-processing.

Strongback offers the following features:

  • Testable – Test more of your robot code on development machines without requiring any real robot hardware.
  • Simple API – Uses powerful language features of Java 8 to reduce and simplify code while retaining flexibility.
  • Useful frameworks – Strongback offers several separate frameworks that you can mix and match in your robot code and in your tests. Use what you want, and nothing more. Set up all of them with just a few lines of code.
  • Uses WPILib – Uses the WPILib classes underneath for safety and consistency.

Check out our code, read our documentation, and if you’re interested then join us! We’re looking for students and mentors to try using Strongback, contribute code and documentation, help with the website, and even design robot hardware for physical tests.

Follow us on Twitter @Strongbacklib, on GitHub, or join our user and developer discussion forums.


Making progress on our testable robot code library

We are making progress on pulling out of our 2015 robot code the component framework, command framework, and data recorder system that we talked about in our Designing Testable Robot Code presentation at the 2015 FIRST World Championship Conference in St Louis last month.

Our goal is to get it into a minimal state as a self-contained library, and then open it up for contributions, improvements, and help. We’ve already settled on a name and purchased a domain name for the website, and we’re trying to get a simple site running.

Stay tuned! We’ll have more progress over the next few weeks.

Designing Testable Robot Code

Today at the 2015 FIRST World Championship Conference, Randall Hauch and Zach Anderson presented “Designing Testable Robot Code” (see slides below or the available PDF).

In the hour-long talk, they described how Team 4931 created new hardware abstractions to decouple the subsystem and command classes from the WPILib hardware classes. Traditionally, robot code directly use the WPILib hardware classes for the robot’s actuators and sensors, but doing this makes it very difficult to unit test the subsystems. Using the abstractions makes it possible to unit test the subsystems on developer machines without having any RoboRIO or physical hardware.

Testing on the robot with the RoboRIO and associated hardware is also important, and the team created a data recorder to capture in real time the discrete and continuous inputs, control outputs, and changing command states while the robot is being operated. The data log can be transferred off robot and passed into data processing and analytics (Team 4931 used Tableau), making it very easy to quickly visualize the behavior of the robot and control system outputs.

The team also proposed creating a reusable open source project where FRC teams can collaborate on this reusable library that sits on top of the standard WPILib for Java library. Team 4931 will refactor and clean up their current code and will donate it as a starting point for the project.  Almost a dozen teams expressed interest in participating, so stay tuned over the next month or two while we kick off this new project.

Thanks to everyone who attended! And best of luck to those competing at the 2015 World Championships in St. Louis!

2015 St. Louis Regional FRC

Later this week FRC Team 4931, aka Edwardsville Technologies, will participate in the 2015 St. Louis Regional FIRST Robotics Competition. The event is 3 full days of very intense  but friendly robotics competition – something FIRST calls Gracious Professionalism®.

The Event

The regional competition is free and open to the public! It’s a great opportunity to bring young students to show them how much fun science, technology, engineering and math can be. So stop by the Chaifetz Arena on the Saint Louis University Campus to see 43 teams and hundreds of high school students with their amazing robots.

Thursday is just a prep day for the teams, but the public is welcome on Friday and Saturday:

  • Friday, March 20 from 8:30-6:30PM
  • Saturday, March 21 from 9AM-5:30PM

detailed schedule is also available online. If you can’t make it in person but want to follow along, watch the live webcast or follow us on Twitter.

Of course, if you do come to the event, stop by our pit to say hi, talk to our students, and see our robot!

The Game

This year’s FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) game is Recycle Rush℠:

Recycle Rush℠ starts with certain tasks to be performed autonomously in the first 15 seconds of the match, and then human drivers take over for the remaining 2 minutes and 15 seconds to  remotely command the robot to build stacks of totes, recycling cans, and pool noodles. Points are awarded based upon numbers of successfully accomplished tasks. Each match consists of two alliances of three teams, so teams and robots have to work together. And every match puts different teams on each alliance, so teams have to be able to work together will all kinds of different robots. (This is an extreme simplification – the actual game rules are very nuanced and specific and fill about 100 printed pages.)

Our Robot(s)

All FRC teams found out about the game on January 3, 2015, and had only 6 weeks to analyze the game, determine strategies, design and build our competition robot, program the control system, test the functionality, fix any and all problems, and practice driving. Then the competition robot has to be bagged (literally placed in a very large sealed plastic bag) and not touched until the first day of competition.

Team 4931's bagged robot

Here’s our competition robot before bagging:

Competition robot

Six weeks is terribly short, so many teams try to also build a second robot that they can continue to modify, fix, and test after their competition robot has been bagged. This was something we did this year for the first time, and our’s was identical in the most important ways but fairly crude in others (like drive train). Here’s our practice robot with a stack of the totes and recycling container:

Practice robot

There are several areas where totes are available: they can be loaded onto the field via two human player stations, and there are also up to 40 totes in an area of the field called the “landfill” zone. Although our robot can use the totes added from the human player station, our team decided to go for the more challenging task of picking up totes from the landfill. In fact, our robot is optimized for the exact layout of the totes in the landfill.

Field Layout

To save cost and to simplify testing, our robots share a single control system that we can move from one robot to the other.

Our control system

Of course, there’s a lot more to talk about, but the best way to see our robot is to come in person to the event and let us show you!

Our Sponsors

We’d like to thank our sponsors, who have supported us with grants and donations:

And thanks to our families, who have put up with our rigorous schedule!

None of this would be possible without them.

EHS Robotics Showcase

Today the Edwardsville High School (EHS) Robotics Club held a Robotics Showcase for area 5th grade students, giving them all kinds of information about how they can participate in robotics and experience the fun and exhilaration of STEM.

The high school students talked about Botball robotics programs at the middle-school level (next year for these 5th graders) and at the high school, and they demonstrated several great robots the club has built.

Even though Edwardsville Robotics Club (ERC) is not part of the local school district, our team was still given an opportunity to talk to the students about FIRST and the different levels of FIRST robotics programs. And since ERC has JrFLL, FLL, FTC, and FRC teams, these students are able to join and do robotics outside of school, too.

So, Jacob got up on stage and went through a quick presentation about FIRST and introduced FRC 4931’s catch video, while offstage TJ drove last years competition robot (with some help from Alex). The audience had lots of great questions, and Jacob did a great job answering them.

FRC4931 at EHS Robotics Showcase

Thanks to the EHS Robotics Club for inviting us to their showcase and for giving us a few minutes to talk about FIRST and Edwardsville Robotics.

Here’s the presentation:

and the catch video:

2015 Open House

FRC Team 4931 is starting a new season and looking for new recruits! Any high school age student in 9-12 grades (public, private, or home school) is eligible. While we are based in Edwardsville, any students in the Metro East area willing to make the trip to our meetings is welcome to join us. We currently have members from 4 different high schools!

Join us at our open house on Sunday, January 11 from 3-5PM at the Lewis and Clark N.O. Nelson Campus at 600 Troy Road in Edwardsville (across from Market Basket). We’ll be in Rooms N4 121 and 119. Here’s a map showing where the entrance to building N4:

N.O. Nelson Campus of Lewis & Clark Community College


This team is an intensive program for high school students to design and build a robot to compete in the 2015 FIRST robotics competition. Students will learn first hand about all aspects of robotics, including control systems, autonomous and teleoperated operation, computer aided design (CAD), mechanical engineering, Java programming, shop safety, electronics and wiring, fabrication techniques, testing, troubleshooting, and maintenance. They will also experience product development, project management, graphic design, marketing, presentations, documentation, accounting, teamwork, administration, and gracious professionalism. The team will compete at one or more area events, and will experience the hard work and fun of FIRST robotics.

You can also find out more about FIRST and FRC at

ERC in the Edwardsville Halloween Parade

The Edwardsville/Glen Carbon Chamber of Commerce hosts the annual Halloween Parade in downtown Edwardsville. It’s a huge tradition on Halloween night, and thousands of spectators come out rain or shine to watch the parade of over 100 floats sponsored by local businesses and organizations.

ERC in the 2014 Halloween Parade

This was the first year that the Edwardsville Robotics Club entered a float. The JrFLL and FLL students dressed up as Minions from the Despicable Me 2 movie. The FTC and FRC team members drove the large FRC robot down St Louis and Main Streets. It was great to hear lots of comments like “Hey, a robot! That’s awesome!” from both young and not-so-young people.

Getting ready for the 2014 Halloween Parade

UPDATE: We won 3rd place in the small non-profit category. The voting for the Fan Favorite is still open, so vote for us!