2017-2018 POWER UP!

Mid-Season Progress & Updates

It’s mid-season and the team is hard at work, dedicating their time after school or work and during the weekends by contributing to the mechanical, programming, business, and branding aspects. While preparing for the 2018 POWER Up! Competition, we are keeping our social media platforms up to date on a weekly basis with our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. To keep up with the teams progress, watch for our posts on your feed by following us!











Posted in Season 2017


Welcome to the 2017-2018 Season

We are so excited about this year’s official FIRST Teaser that our joystick fingers are getting itchy just thinking about it!

Our All-Hands Meeting on October 1st was the official first meeting for 12+ new members! Please join us in welcoming our new team! Our Fearless Leaders gave a great presentation for the newcomers and their parents, detailing who we are, what we do, why we do it, and most importantly, how we do it.

It takes some planning. It takes some doing. It takes some Hard work. Dedication. Late nights. Rough patches. Obstacles. Failures. Raising above.

And in the end? Amazing successes.

Here’s to the new season. POWER UP.

Mentor Mark introducing FIRST Robotics to new and returning team members.

Griffin leading his first meeting as Team Captain. Go get ’em Griff.




Posted in Season 2017

Week 5 Progress Video

Week 5 progress update video!

Posted in Season 2017

2016 Season End

And so another fantastic robotics season comes to an end – maybe. Last year was a learning season for the team, as few of us had any extensive experience and we all learned about FIRST Robotics together, but this year, we knew what we were doing, and we really got a chance to stretch our limbs and show the world what we’re made of (and rock the San Diego Regional with 14th place in the qualifying rounds!). Just because we have experience doesn’t mean we’re not learning, though; we learned how to really apply math this year to ensure that our subsystems had enough power to operate, and we used CAD a lot more than in previous years (almost our entire robot was waterjet-cut). In fact, our shooting and climbing subsystems had so much power they kept breaking themselves! Our shooter bent its steel hex axle when we tried to lift it, and our scissor lifts buckled under the weight of our robot and became bound together We never did have a fully operable robot in the Regional. That’s right: we got 14th place using nothing but our drive train.

The English language is inadequate for several things, and chief among them is describing the level of fun that was to be had at the 2016 San Diego Regional by every team there, including the Top Hats. Of course, that’s not to say it was easy. We nearly didn’t get past inspection, since we forgot about rule R40 (the PDP must be accessible for inspection) when we were designing our electrical system at the last minute. Our PDP wound up hanging upside down! We tried placing a mirror in our battery box: close, but no cigar. We almost had to completely reconfigure our electronics, until we thought of turning the robot on its back. It turns out, that made it just visible enough to count. Whew!

We had two very capable drive teams, and between them, we made every match. We didn’t have a chance to drive the robot even for a minute before our first match, but that didn’t stop our drivers from figuring it out instantly and playing an essential role in our alliance’s victory. We had a big challenge to overcome when trying to make our matches, though: changing bumpers. We had a rather, shall we say, awkward bumper changing system. We used wing bolts to bolt through our chassis frame and into the sides of our bumpers. However, our robot had treads, and the placement of the wing bolts made many of them very hard to reach. And we had a lot of hard-to-reach bolts with our four-piece bumper sets. It was only with FIRST founder Woodie Flowers’ blessing on our robot that we made every match, and won 2/3 of them.

So why is the season ending – maybe? The competition may be over, but we still want to keep learning. We’ve build a robot that we’re all extremely proud to call our own, and now we’re going to make it work as it was intended to work. We will come out of this year with a robot that can do nearly everything on the Stronghold field, and a whole lot more expertise and wisdom. Bag night was our first countdown, but this is our final countdown (da da daa daaaa… da da da da daaaa… thank you, Europe, for improving bag night immeasurably). We’re counting down the hours until we get our robot to work as it was designed, and once it does, we’ll see you at the Battle at the Border!

Posted in Season 2016

Haikus – Team 4014’s Newest Love

As team 4014’s marketing and management (M&M) team leads a brainstorming session on Friday, January 15th, mentor Kathryn McBride makes a seemingly innocent suggestion about how to get more posts on the website’s blog, “You can write anything: a news update or a song…” which is when mentor Mark Post chimed in, “…or a haiku!” Jokingly, some of the members of the team composed haikus about current progress. Another mentor suggested we create a haiku channel in Slack, the messaging system the team used. By the next morning, the haiku Slack channel was up and running, the team members already exercising their creative muscles.
This suggestion created a new tradition for the team. This tradition has continued on for the entire season. Below are some highlights from our haiku channel.

January 16
kzornado [10:42 AM]
Where is our robot?
I think it went out the door
We’ll have to rebuild.

January 18
nicholasj [5:51 PM]
All robots are cool.
But summer better than most.
I hope we do well.

mrada2017 [6:00 PM]
Where is our robot?
Did sophomores try to fix it?
We’ll just rebuild it

trada [8:35 PM]
Inventory parts
This makes me feel dead inside
It’s been eight hours?

Sunday, no free food.
M&Ms brought anyway.
Faith in man restored.

January 21
fisherman [4:23]
Do ‘bots have feelings?
Their ‘thoughts’ are naught but programs.
Simple answer: no.

January 23
missdefy [1:07]
Who is Dean Kamen?
You call yourself a member?
All hail Dean Kamen

January 24th
mark [8:53]
How hard can fun be?
We make robots rule the field.
Who really needs sleep?

February 5
lucas [12:32 PM]
go under low bar
made dope electronics thing
our cad is on fleek

trada [9:26 PM]
3 functions, 2 arms,
5 outworks, 12 SRX,
1 orchestra of chaos

February 11
lucas [9:06 AM]
five days till bag day
robot is still in pieces
need an extension

lucas [5:17 PM]
turns out bag day is
really a week from Tuesday
I can breathe again

fisherman [10:38 PM]
Forty-eight hours
Constructing our whole robot
Excitement building

February 13
lucas [7:26 AM]
haven’t wasted a
single thought on anything
besides robotics

fboensch [8:37 AM]
That is the spirit!!!
Robot overlord controls
Sucks away our brains

February 15th
fisherman [7:41 PM]
Parts waterjet-cut
Now we just need to construct
Building (finally!)

Posted in Season 2016

Week 3: Task Management and Prototyping


Our wheeled shooter prototype

This weekend, FRC team 4014 has been hard at work tightening up the design of their robot as they begin to model the next contender for the challenge. The team broke off into sub-teams and found individual opportunities to support one another through the beginning stages of making physical representations of the planned robot. Last week, we saw the beginnings of these new groups, as many members stepped up to take on new responsibilities.

To keep these new teams and tasks on track, our captain, Thomas Rada, revealed the task management calendar to the team. With this new method of keeping track of collective and individual work, the team can be held accountable for weekly progress, motivated by the physical manifestation of their deadline. Captain Rada stated that the team is “…becoming more of a business and has started reaching out into the community.” Therefore, we need to “keep our projects accountable.” The task management calendar will hopefully provide the team with a greater sense of unity and organization, giving us motivation to bring each aspect of the robot together. As a branch of FIRST Robotics, the Top Hat Technicians want to create an environment where we cooperate as an overall team, a team with a common goal to conquer the Stronghold.


Pneumatic shooter prototype in action

The team worked towards the completion of the robot in every area, facing new obstacles as old ones were conquered. Fleshing out some of the more complicated designs in CAD, the design team has been finding solutions to the various impediments awaiting them on the field. One of the more prominent challenges is the short yet crucial autonomous period at the beginning of each round. The programming team stepped up to the plate to find how best to use the period of time in which the robot would no longer be in manual control. Programmers are working hard to prioritize the robot’s capabilities at that point to make use of that point of independence and the parts provided. The mechanical team has been working hard to solidify the robot’s components. Prototypes of certain parts have been produced utilizing the 3D printer and laser cutter at OSML, testing of said parts commencing immediately after. With each new part the team finds better ways to pull the robot together through it’s design and use that design to our competitive advantage.

Each team has made excellent progress in a short amount of time, collectively keeping the team on track. From the development of new aspects of the robot, to the experimentation with those previously produced, the team is making sure that no time is wasted, and that they are continually moving forward.


Posted in Season 2016

Week 2: Determining Design and Delegating Responsibilities


With a heavy heart, the team said goodbye to our old friend “Prime”, last season’s robot, using the components and materials from the last competition to begin some of the design work.

Throughout the past week, we’ve taken over our generously donated workspace, OSML, to begin the hard work of brainstorming and prototyping possible designs for our FRC Stronghold robot! While building the robot may prove to be challenging, the first step can be even more difficult: determining the design. Before there can be any assembly, there needs to be a layout. Because there are so many components of both the machinery, and the makeup of our team, it takes time to ideate and agree on what the robot should be capable of doing, and how to do it.


Discussing different methods of conquering FRC Stronghold’s castle obstacle.

This weekend was utilized as a time to organize the team, as well as conceptualize potential final products.  Newer members still exploring their team role were given tasks and we took stock of what materials were on hand as well as the best use for the huge pool of engineering talent. Groups were set up and, as the designs continued to evolve, our team leads got a better idea of next steps and assignments. FRC Stronghold presents a great many more unknown variables in the form of ever changing obstacles and audience participation. Design is THE hot topic and different methods to overcome each hindrance have been proposed. Team meetings are dominated by discussions about design, and while we approach all disputes with Woodie Flowers’ concept of “gracious professionalism”, figuring out how many of the barriers the bot will be able to overcome and prototyping possible designs are crucial to the team’s intended victory.


Posted in Season 2016

2016 Season Kickoff!


And we’re off! The 2016 FIRST Robotics competition entitled “Stronghold” started today with the congregation of robotics team from all over San Diego County to learn the objective of this season’s challenge. While the medieval theme of  “Stronghold” was revealed months ago, teams have only been able to speculate as to the actual obstacles our future robots will have to overcome. Today the theme of the middle ages made sense, as the competition was announced to consist of an obstacle course that teams will have to conquer in order to storm the opposing team’s castle. Some of the trials include a drawbridge, a mini-moat, uneven terrain and a portcullis, combined with other obstacles that change and alternate between each round. Upon defeating these mechanical monsters, the robots must then shoot “boulders” into their opponent’s tower, getting into either the windows above or tunnels below. While initially surprised and slightly alarmed at the thought of such a challenge, our team was soon excited to get started on designing such a versatile robot. Even before kits of parts were passed out, the Top Hats began brainstorming ways to survive the technological gauntlet that awaited them in March.

Getting kits and other parts together after the challenge was announced.

Getting kits and other parts together after the challenge was announced.

After gathering supplies and studying a mock-up of the field, the team gathered with other North County robotics teams, from Trade Tech, Mission Hills, and San Pasqual High Schools to review the rules and restrictions. This soon turned into a collaborative brainstorming session between teams.

The collective of creative minds eventually dispersed, and the Top Hat Technicians began to discuss as a team what their limitations and ultimate aspirations for this competition were.

Putting our head's together.

Putting our heads together.

Although the season is just starting, we know the time will fly by all too soon. Discussions will shift from clarification of rules to new ideas, and we will work as a team to ensure that we are safe and productive as we start creating a new and multi-functional robot. We’re eager to conquer these competitive trials and the challenges that await us as we design and build.

Check our site as we draw closer to the competition date for updates, photos and information about our team. We are excited to work together with our community to build a robot that will cultivate the minds of the future engineers of our world. Thanks for supporting The Top Hat Technicians!

Posted in Season 2016

Beep Bop Booop

Welcome to the new website!

This blog area is where we’ll feature all the things we do, and all the progress we’ll make. And all the pictures we’ll take. It’ll be a great year.

Posted in Official Business, Season 2016