FIRST® Tech Challenge
Team Blast May 23, 2024

Hi ,

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

In this week's blast: 

💻 Tech Tip of the Week

🎓 FIRST Scholarship Program Spotlight

🎁 Make Every Hour Count

Tech Tip of the Week

Welcome back to the Tech Tip of the Week, this is Part 3 of a 3-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.


In Part 1 we discussed the physical characteristics and properties of frequencies in each of the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. In Part 2 we talked about the history of the bands, described sources of interference (e.g., other devices!) on each band, and how Wi-Fi improvements have made 5GHz more efficient to use. 


Robot design - and more aptly “Control Hub placement” - is THE critical factor in influencing the Wi-Fi frequency/band you should be using. Remember Wi-Fi is a line-of-sight technology, which means Wi-Fi does best when there is a straight unobstructed path from the antenna on the Control Hub to the antenna on the Driver Hub. Where is the antenna in a Control Hub? It is right under the plastic on the “face” of the hub on the logo side. If the Control Hub can be mounted so that its antenna is generally not covered/surrounded/blocked by metal, 5GHz should be your target band. However, if your Control Hub is buried deep inside the robot and surrounded by metal, the 2.4GHz band may be your only option (remember, the lower frequencies of 2.4GHz might be able to “bend around” metal obstacles slightly better). Unfortunately exposing the “back side” of the Control Hub instead of the “front side” of the hub is not going to yield similar results, as there is a PCB with metal traces between the antenna and the “back side” of the Hub that will block/reflect/absorb signals.


Does that mean your Control Hub needs to be mounted unprotected on the outside of the robot in order to get good signal reception? Not necessarily, fortunately not all materials are the same. Plastics are generally the most “invisible” to Wi-Fi frequencies, or at least their absorption/blocking/reflection (also known as attenuation) is generally minimal enough to not sufficiently matter. Wood, especially thin birch commonly used in many robot designs, is slightly more attenuating but definitely still a great option. Metals, however, will greatly attenuate Wi-Fi frequencies and are the worst materials for Wi-Fi transmission. Yes, I am looking at YOU teams who use hook-and-loop to mount your robot battery to the top of the Control Hub - stop doing that! And for those looking for inspiration in this upcoming season, water is also an incredibly poor medium for transmission of Wi-Fi frequencies.


But how do you know for sure how well your robot’s Wi-Fi is performing? You can monitor the Wi-Fi signal’s strength through the Driver Station App. Check out the February 15, 2024 Team Blast Tech Tip for info on how to view and understand Wi-Fi Signal Strength. If your signal is strong when using 5GHz at maximum field range (from the Driver Hub) and in all robot orientations, you should be good to go on 5GHz! Feel free to compare the performance on 5GHz and 2.4GHz, and if they are comparable you should stick with 5GHz for better interference reduction. 


In summary, the vast majority of robots should be using 5GHz as this is the optimal channel in terms of interference reduction, device crowding, and channel utilization by the Wi-Fi standards. Robot design - specifically Control Hub placement - might necessitate the use of 2.4GHz if the line-of-sight path to the Control Hub antenna in the robot is too greatly obstructed by metal, especially motors. By monitoring the robot’s Wi-Fi signal strength, you can determine which frequency band yields the best Wi-Fi signal performance for your robot. 


FIRST® Scholarship Program Spotlight: High School Student Opportunity: TKS - Innovation Program for Teens (Global)  


FIRST Scholarship Provider TKS, a top innovation program for students ages 13-17, is recruiting students to join their Fall 2024 Program and is offering a scholarship to FIRST students. Forward this to students to use the scholarship code TKSFIRST when applying to receive one month of tuition if accepted!


In 10 months, students gain real-world work experience with organizations like Google, Meta, Microsoft, the World Economic Forum and Mastercard and understand emerging technologies like AI, Quantum Computing, Synthetic Biology, Regenerative Medicine, Nanotech, and Blockchain. They will be mentored by industry professionals and build projects that can be used to stand out in university and career applications and internships.

Applications are due May 31, 2024. Send students here to apply!


Make Every Hour Count: Log Your Volunteer Time for Corporate Matching Gifts! 


The FIRST in ShowSM season may be over, but there’s still time to double or triple your impact. Your employer may have a matching gift programAs a charity focused on youth education, FIRST may be eligible to receive funding from your employer because of your support through volunteer hours and/or your financial gifts. Check with your employer and log your support today! 


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