Join the Bit Buckets!

I want cha
I want cha

We have 5 Vex spots, 4 Pumpkin Toss spots, and 1 FRC spot.

Vex Robotics Saturdays 1:00 – 5:00 from June through mid-December 2016. Meetings may be extended to April if the team qualifies for State/World. $200. Grades 9-12.

Pumpkin Toss Sundays noon – 2:00 from August to October. Build a trebuchet to compete at the UA Mall in October. $50. Grades 9-12.

FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Sundays noon–6pm from August through May; meet six days a week during intensive 45-day build season in January-February; out of town/state travel for competitions next Spring. $460, includes Vex and Pumpkin Toss. Grades 9-12.

1) Sign up!

Fill out the Student Interest Form

2) Show up!

To join the Vex team show up to our build meeting on Saturdays 1:00-5:00pm at CoLab Workspace, 17 E Pennington, downstairs.

To join the Pumpkin Toss, attend our meetings on Sundays noon-2:00pm at Xerocraft Hackerspace 101 W 6th St.

To join the FRC team, attend our meetings on Sundays 2:00-6:00pm at Xerocraft Hackerspace 101 W 6th St.

3) Pay

$200 Vex due on your second meeting/end of September
$50 Pumpkin Toss due on your second meeting/end of September
$460 FRC due on your second meeting/end of September

NOTE: City High has scholarships for their students so there will be no membership fee if you attend City High.

The team also seeks more mentors to teach engineering concepts to the students. If you can volunteer your time please let us know:

Mentor Interest Form

Profiled For Excellent Design

Please enjoy this excerpt about the Bit Buckets Robotics team in the book FIRST Robots: Behind the Design. Out of the 2900 teams that participated in FIRST last year they only chose 30 top-performing robots to profile, so we are very proud.

This book was published in January and a copy was sent to every FIRST Robotics Competition team in the kit of parts distributed at Kickoff. Pages 202-207 are entirely about our 2016 robot design while the next two pages in the pdf, 18 and 173, offer photos.

We are featured in the chapter on Computer Controlled Cutting Systems for innovative use of the Trotec Speedy 300 Laser Cutter in the creation of our plywood robot. This robot took first place at the 2015 AZ West Regional, earning the right to compete in the World Championship. It also won a Creativity Award and Engineering Excellence Award. We couldn’t have made such a groovy robot without Xerocraft Hackerspace!

If you want more information abut the robot design book or if you want to order a copy, here is a link to the book’s webpage.

To download the excerpt from the book, click here: Behind-the-Design-4183 (pdf, 9 pages, 8.5mb)

Both VEX Robots Prototyped

The team with robots
The team with robots. Photo by Urs Utzinger.

The Bit Buckets VEX team will field two robots in competition this year. ShooterBot collected pyramids of balls and fires them using two spinning wheels. In this year’s game you can score 25 points if you lift your alliance partner robot 4 inches off the ground and 50 points to lift it 12 inches off the ground. Our LiftBot deploys a ramp for the partner robot to drive up, and we are building a scissor lift to elevate the alliance partner another 8 inches. LiftBot also has a catapult to score balls!

Come Cheer Us On!

CaptureThe Bit Buckets are competing at the FIRST Robotics Competition Arizona East Regional this weekend: March 19 Thursday to March 21 Saturday.

You are welcome to attend and support us.

The event is free (there might be a parking fee of $5).

The most exciting activity is Saturday (you are welcome any day). Dr. Urs Utzinger will bring his grill and we will have a tailgate party Saturday 12:30pm to 1:30pm.

You can visit the pits (safety glasses are available at entrance) and learn about the game by asking any of the participating teams questions.

Hamilton High School, 3700 S. Arizona Avenue, Chandler, AZ

Thursday: Setup and Practice 8:30am – 8pm
Friday: Qualification Matches 8:30am – 6:30pm
Saturday Morning: Remaining Qualification Matches, 8:30am -12:15pm
Saturday Alliance Selection: 12:15pm
Saturday Afternoon: Finals 1:30-4:30pm followed by awards

Up to date Game Status is available at:
or via Phone App: The Blue Alliance. If there is a webcast, it will be listed on the weblink above.

Congratulations Cal and Alia!

The Bit Buckets Robotics Team is proud to nominate two of our members as our Dean’s List Nominees. Congratulations Cal Miller and Alia Gilbert!

Cal Miller and his dog Juno in front of our 2014 FRC robot.
Cal Miller and his dog Juno in front of our 2014 FRC robot.

Cal Miller’s enthusiasm for robotics is astonishing and infectious.

When I first met Cal Miller he was an 8th grader attending the beginning of the school year club recruitment day. Within a minute of talking with me he joined our team, then talked me out of half my table so he could recruit for a rocketry club. After poaching several students who approached the table I found myself yelling at him, a rare experience for someone as patient as I am. He apologized successfully and then convinced a large group of students to participate in robotics (and rocketry). This story illustrates the next four years – high quality work punctuated by annoyance, but always redeemed.

FRC gave us permission for Cal to join the team as a Middle School student because he attends a highly-academic school with advanced curriculum so was already scholastically prepared for the challenge. His enthusiasm has never wavered. His father reports that Cal spends most of his free time in pursuit of robotics topics: adding to the conversation on Chief Delphi, following other teams, reading the news, and mastering new skills such as programming and designing robots. The other students are inspired by his passion for the program, though none can match it.

Cal regularly pulls rabbits out of hats for the team. At the 2012 Utah Regional I had spoken at length with Platt representatives about how we could go about getting them to sponsor our team. The answers I received were tepid, such as, “Try the website,” but 10 minutes later Cal brought me a Platt business card with a handwritten invitation to seek sponsorship!!! We qualified for Championships and Platt helped us get to St. Louis that year.

At the World Championship, Cal sought out all his favorite teams and asked them specific questions, such as how to motivate less-passionate team members or how successful teams distribute work or make decisions.

Cal has a gift for talking with Judges and did so when our team received the Rookie All-Star Award, the Judges Award, the Quality Award, and the Excellence in Engineering Award. He has an impressive grasp of all robot and team details because he is hardworking, never misses a meeting, and asks many questions of all our mentors, volunteers, and fellow students. He is articulate and others have complimented his skill at fielding questions.

Cal is versatile, serving well in various roles over the years. For two years he was Lead Programmer and one year he was Scout Master. He creates our Robot Reveal videos. He participates fully during our Outreach events. He represented our team for the Chairman’s Presentation. He has been remarkably successful at inspiring donations and finding new corporate sponsors.

Cal has used SolidWorks for years and has achieved real mastery. Last year he designed an octagonal plywood drivetrain as a summertime fun project, which he shared on Chief Delphi. His work inspired SolidWorks’ Educational Director Marie Planchard to tweet “Thank you Cal Miller #FRC @BitBuckets4183. Great #SolidWorks #robot model #omgrobots”

Cal drafted a schedule of instruction during the off-season, which the team implemented. He led off-season design projects. He taught specific subjects such as a multi-week SolidWorks series and an overview of FRC Control Systems.

This year, his fourth in FRC, he introduced a radical new way of designing robots out of laser-cut birch plywood to our team. He built several prototype drivetrains to tune and evaluate the strength of this construction technique. Following this success he almost single-handedly designed our robot, a truly elegant machine constructed almost entirely out of plywood. Cal has shared his CAD drawings on Chief Delphi, which inspired an invitation to be featured in the book, FIRST Behind the Design: Modern Design, Manufacturing and Control of Robots by co-author Vince Wilczynski himself.

We highly recommend Cal Miller for your Dean’s List Award; he is the very embodiment of the spirit of FIRST.

Alia Gilbert teaches electronics to a young visitor at at the Tucson Children’s Museum.

Alia Gilbert makes things happen. This became obvious soon after she joined the team, on her birthday, when all her fellow students acted counter to their regular apathetic birthday habits and showered her with an array of Dr. Who themed gifts: socks, t-shirt, beach towel, and coffee cup. She has worked similar mysterious magic ever since, inspiring student action and leading the team into new territory

Alia has a can-do spirit and has jumped in to all areas of the team, even when it is unfamiliar or outside her comfort zone. For instance, she volunteered to serve on the drive team in her rookie year. When she didn’t pass our in-house technical interview, she made it her mission to increase her understanding of every system and function of our robot, resulting in her being selected for the drive team in her second year.

Alia exhibits natural leadership. She has a gift for getting the team on the same page, which is always a challenge for groups. She seems to effortlessly navigate difficult situations, helping upset students feel calm, and helping passive students take action. All the members of the team experience more success because she creates a climate where all can shine.

She is savvy at figuring out different team members’ motivations and working with them individually to achieve the team goals. Alia completed five years of Girl Scout leadership training and has worked as a camp counselor. She is confident about asking for help and people are often eager to lend a hand. There are unpopular tasks on the team that become more palatable when Alia asks a person to tackle it.

Alia is pleasant to work with. She is good-natured and everyone likes her. Our team has been experiencing higher attendance rates since she joined, and part of this is definitely due to the comfortable and fun environment she creates all around her.

Alia is determined. When she decides to tackle something she will work hard to master it. When our team participated in the Tucson Pumpkin Toss, she decided to be an essential part of trebuchet build team and firing team. To achieve this she showed up for every meeting, worked diligently, asked for help to increase her skills, and made herself available at every pumpkin firing. We had a limited number of students allowed to be on the firing range at a given time and once a visitor borrowed her hardhat, thus preventing her from safely joining her crew. She was in a high state of urgency until she solved this problem by finding a hardhat to borrow, and re-joining her people in time for launch.

Alia quickly establishes rapport with people and is a real asset during outreach events. Her camp counselor experience makes her very comfortable work with younger people who visit our robot, interactive exhibits, and technology demonstrations. She has volunteered for outreach events where she is the primary spokesperson for the team, such as a robot demonstration at a middle school when no other students were available.

This is just Alia’s second year on the team, but she has become indispensable. It is a tribute to her leadership that she was selected to lead the Chairman’s presentation team in her Rookie year. One of her fellow presenters had a dramatic stress meltdown the night before presenting but she was able to help him stay focused and get through the challenge successfully.

This year she was elected to serve as President. She wields this power responsibly, helping the group move through decision-making processes rather than foisting her own will on others. Since our team is only 4 years old we do not have a well-developed model of organization handed down from our predecessors. Our students have had to create their own systems for team governance. This year they have achieved a student-led structure, and the adult mentors can spend more time watching from the sidelines, beaming.

This year Alia published a Youtube video explaining her childhood and growing up. She shared this video with her friends and mentors. Alia had to become self reliant at an early age. This video was touching and further intensified our appreciation for her leadership and motivational skills. She demonstrates an unusual maturity that is complemented with empathy.

We heartily recommend Alia Gilbert for your Dean’s List Award. She is a credit to our team and to FIRST Robotics itself.


Can Grabber can grab cans!

Very late one night, our mentor Kevin had a vision of a can grabber that would use a rope to squeeze a pair of Lexan arms around a can. Herr Profesor Doktor Urs worked with a few students to make this fever dream into a reality.IMG_6530

Aaron shows off our new recycle container grabber, design 2.1.  The grabber arms are made of Lexan® reinforced with thin plywood sheets, with strips of grippy tread material bolted on.  These arms hug the cans while the crank on top pulls the arms together by winding up the rope on a central shaft.


The team has explored the geometry of the problem, which calls for lifting the can five feet high to place it on top of 5 square bins.  This grabber works for cans that are upside down, right-side up, and even sideways.  A can on its side is top-heavy, so when the grabber holds the can near the bottom and lifts it, its off-balance grip causes the can to rotate onto its top, after which it can be picked up in its upside-down state and put on the stack.

Precision Machining

Xochitl used aluminum 1/2″ hex shaft, turned on the lathe to fit into bearings.  One end had a further step to fit into an encoder coupling.


This was the first time the Bit Buckets had used Xerocraft’s Logan lathe to make robot parts, and we were very pleased with the results.


Before Xochitl could turn the shaft, she had to create a high-speed cutting tool, using the grinder.