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What is "Mentor on a Mission"?


My name is Charlie Peppler.  I have always had a passion for using computers to move things and make things.  I've spent most of my career in connecting computers, devices, databases, and of course people.  More on my background and why I started doing this later, but the first question is:  What the heck is a "Mentor on a Mission"?

 I volunteered as a mentor for First Robotics Competition (Team 5459 - Ipswich MA).  I enjoyed the experience, but after the dust settled on build season, I realized that there is a big gap between students who might be interested, and the technical skills necessary to be fully involved as a functioning team member during the intense 6 week build season.

I enjoy connecting hardware and software to do interesting things and wanted to learn more about FRC and building robots (along with students) during the off season.  I started thinking about what would be necessary to create a minimal working testbed in my home to work with and learn all the various components.  
I quickly realized it was cost prohibitive to recreate the Kit of Parts (RoboRio, Power Distribution Panel, Player station, motors etc.) used in real competition.  I didn't want to spend the money, and for more kids to get kids "hands on", there is a real need for a cheaper "on ramp" platform to work on basic skills (mechanical, electrical, software), that would prepare for having fun, and being productive and successful through the build season leading to FRC competition.  
Turning around in my office chair, I looked at my trusty Raspberry Pi.  I bought it over a year ago, connected it to my home network, and ever since have been experimenting with various software projects, connecting hardware and open source software.  I've wired up an RFID board to the Raspi, written a driver based on libnfc and connected it to MQTT (future blog post?), hooked up LEDs and switches, and driven them with a variety of programming languages (C, Node-Red, Javascript, Java, Python, MySQL).  This thing is extremely capable, has lots of available development tools and open source repos, it's expensive, and has proliferated widely.  Some advanced FRC teams are already using the Pi3 as a vision co-processor.  
My mission became clear.  I wanted to recreate a stripped down version of the FRC competition environment (player station, robot comms, robot software, mechanical and electrical) that would allow me and students to learn, work and play in that gap between Lego Mindstorm and full blown FRC an affordable price!  

If we could get that all running, there's plenty of headroom to learn more.  Thus ...Mentor on a Mission.

PS, I'm recruiting presently recruiting like minded mentors to help make this platform a reality.  If you're interested contact me.







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