Do You Robot?


DCTC Hosts Robotics Teams to Advance CAD Experience

It is a sport. Not of running, jumping, or throwing, but of the mind. FIRST Robotics Competition, or FRC, means For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. It is a sport that encompasses sound engineering principles, strategic problem solving, and team-building skills. And it is rapidly growing: in 2006 there were only two teams. By 2014, that grew to 207 teams. FIRST is designed to help high-school-aged young people discover how interesting and rewarding the lives of engineers and scientists can be.

Why is FIRST unique?

It is a sport where participants can learn from the pros.

Designing and building a robot is a fascinating real-world professional experience.

Competing brings participants as much excitement and adrenaline rush as conventional varsity tournaments.

The game rules are a surprise every year.

FIRST consists of short games that are played by robots. The robots are designed and built in six weeks from a common set of parts by a team of students and a handful of engineers that are mentors. They design, then program and remotely control the robots in several rounds of competition.

During the summer of 2013, the Eagan High School FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Team, Team 2220 – Blue Twilight, was at Dakota County Technical College to do a robotics demo for DCTC’s Teens eXperiencing Technology (TXT) event. The team’s faculty advisor, Jim Lynch, was impressed by DCTC’s computer lab capacity and began planning an event for Computer Aided Design (CAD) training with Creo by PTC. Creo is specialized 3D design software that has been revolutionizing the way engineers and designers develop products.

“The large training session hosted at DCTC and taught by PTC CAD experts helped us train a much larger group of students. It then led to greater buy-in and support for using CAD modeling in our design process,” said Lynch.

Students involved in the training at DCTC compete in two different levels of the FIRST Robotics program. Middle school and early high school students make up the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Teams. They design and build smaller robots using a platform from Legos called Tetrix, which looks much like old building sets.

The other level of robotics is the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) for grades 9-12. Students at this level are challenged to design and build robots starting with totes of motors, sensors and other parts, but no framework. Each team only has 6 weeks to design and build a competition-ready robot.

Lynch hopes to hold CAD training at DCTC every year. “We trained over 70 young people that day. The facilities at DCTC were perfect to provide this large scale training.”

Nathan Chapdelaine, senior student on Team 2220, explained how incorporating CAD into the design phase helped them see how their robot would look before spending considerable time and money to construct it. “It helped us work out the design flaws early in the process before building,” Chapdelaine said. This past season during week four out of the six week build process, they discovered there was no space for the battery. “Although the situation was not ideal, we were able to catch this issue before the robot was constructed, thanks to our CAD model,” he explained. “After a bit of modification to the model, we fixed it and began machining.” Without CAD, that critical problem would not have been discovered until the final week, causing the team to do some major rebuilding late in the season.

“We have only scratched the surface of what CAD can do,” said Chapdelaine.

Another important benefit of the CAD training at DCTC was that the team developed an engineering mindset. “As FIRST Robotics Competition was created to teach engineering to high school students, this benefit has been crucial,” said Chapdelaine. “Using PTC’s Creo software has given all of us, freshman through seniors, an invaluable insight into what we can do. Our build season reflected it.”

“The change in our team throughout the year has been astonishing,” said Lynch. “Our students have learned to engineer a robot instead of just throwing together parts and seeing if it works.”

The season may be over for FIRST Robotics Team 2220 from Eagan High School, but the benefits are long lasting.

Chapdelaine said, “Although I will be in college this fall, I hope that the team can continue this training at DCTC so that our surrounding teams can have all the benefits of CAD that we experienced this season while furthering our own teams’ knowledge and experience.”


FIRST was founded in 1989 to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. Based in Manchester, NH, the 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit public charity designs accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills

“To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”

Dean Kamen, FIRST Founder

Photo on top: Model of Team 2220’s Robot for the 2014 season, courtesy of Nathan Chapdelaine

For more information about Continuing Education and Customized Training at Dakota County Technical College, contact:
  • Larry Lewis
    Manufacturing & Technology Coordinator
For more information about Eagan High School FRC, contact:
  • James Lynch
    Faculty Advisor
    Eagan High School Robotics Team
    2220 – Blue Twilight