FIRST® Tech Challenge
Team Blast May 2, 2024

Hi ,

Here's some updates and news from FIRST® Tech Challenge.

In this week's blast: 

💻 Tech Tip of the Week

✈️ The FIRST® & U.S. Air Force/U.S. Space Force Leadership Experience

🔧 FIRST Dashboard Maintenance May 6-14

🎲 AndyMark Game Set Orders

Tech Tip of the Week

Welcome to the Tech Tip of the Week, where this week hopefully “Bandwidth of Robots” will be your new favorite way to refer to groups of wireless robots. Today we will be starting a three-part series talking about Wi-Fi bands and why you might be shooting yourself in the foot by not selecting (and designing your robots for) the right Wi-Fi band. And at the end of the day how do you truly know which band you should be using? 

If you are anything like the average team, Wi-Fi bands are something nebulous that you do not really understand or even give a second thought to. At least, until “bad things” start happening, and you are grasping at straws trying to resolve them. So, let’s start this discussion by talking about radio frequency bands and then the two Wi-Fi bands we have access to, 2.4GHz and 5GHz. 


What are the important properties of Wi-Fi frequencies we should know? To explain Wi-Fi frequencies, let’s look at something most of us might already be more familiar with - AM and FM radio frequency bands (which share similar behaviors, ignoring modulation differences).


AM radio stations are assigned carrier radio frequencies between 540kHz-1600kHz. For example, WGHM 900 AM out of Nashua, NH, is licensed to broadcast at 900kHz. AM radio station signals travel very far very easily mostly because the frequencies in AM radio have very large wavelengths - 900kHz, for example, has a full wavelength of 333m (just over one fifth of a mile) - and because of this they can bend around obstacles very easily (buildings, mountains, curvature of the earth, etc.). However, long wavelength AM radio is more susceptible to interference and static than shorter wavelength transmissions, like FM.


FM radio stations are assigned frequencies between 88.1MHz-108.1MHz. For example, WEVS 88.3 FM also in Nashua, NH broadcasts at 88.3MHz. FM radio frequencies are higher frequency and have a shorter wavelength - 88.3MHz is about 3.4m (about 11 feet) in wavelength - and cannot bend around obstacles as easily. Shorter wavelength frequencies also tend to be absorbed/reflected (comparatively) much easier by obstacles as well.

Hence when driving through the mountains and forests of NH I am more apt to be able to cleanly listen to the AM station uninterrupted but not the FM station, even though they are broadcasting at roughly the same power and from very similar locations.


Frequency bands used for Wi-Fi share very similar characteristics, but because the frequencies for Wi-Fi are much higher some characteristics are more exaggerated. As an analogy, for the purposes of this discussion, we can say that 2.4GHz is to AM as 5GHz is to FM. 2.4GHz frequencies have a longer wavelength (starting at ~0.125m or ~5 inches) than 5GHz frequencies (starting at ~0.05m or ~2 inches), and because of that 2.4GHz radio waves can bend around objects better than 5GHz ones but are much more susceptible to interference than 5GHz. Similarly, 5GHz frequencies will also tend to be reflected/absorbed much easier by solid objects, and so 5GHz tends to perform better with an unobstructed line of sight between antennas. 

In Part 2 of this series, we will talk more about the challenges Wi-Fi faces because unlike AM and FM radio, Wi-Fi does not have dedicated frequency space. This can cause legitimate issues due to the number of existing devices and services that already use frequencies that Wi-Fi has to share. 


In Part 3 of this series, we will talk about how robot design can influence the Wi-Fi frequency you should be using, how to design for the best possible outcome, and how to characterize your optimal band. 


The FIRST® & U.S. Air Force/U.S. Space Force Leadership Experience  


The FIRST & U.S. Air Force/U.S. Space Force Leadership Experience is back for the 12th year.


NEW this year, there will be two Leadership Experiences:

🚀 June 23 - 27, 2024 at the Patrick Space Force Base, Florida

✈️ July 21 - 25, 2024 at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio


This summer, the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force will be hosting 24 lucky FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST® Robotics Competition Mentors & Coaches per Leadership Experience (must be a K-12 teacher within the continental USA) for a 3-day, 4-night all-expenses paid trip filled with leadership training, guest speakers, and amazing tours.  


If you’re interested please submit an application at by Friday, May 17th, 2024 for consideration. Good luck! 


FIRST Dashboard Maintenance May 6-14


From May 6 through May 14, the FIRST Dashboard will be undergoing scheduled maintenance and Thinkscape access through the FIRST Dashboard will be unavailable. Your team roster will also be unavailable, and we recommend that you print your team roster prior to the Dashboard maintenance, if needed, as well as any 2024 voucher codes and passwords that you would like to use or redeem during this period. 


AndyMark Game Set Orders 


On Thursday, May 6, 2024, at 12:00 p.m. ET, AndyMark game sets will be available for purchase through the AndyMark website. Orders will not ship until the Monday, September 9, 2024, following out season kickoff. 

Please see our latest blog for pricing and ordering instructions. 


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