PiE Blog

Meet the Finalists and Winner of the 2016 PiE Alumni Scholarship!

The winners of the 2016 PiE Alumni Scholarship have been announced! For the third annual scholarship, we were excited to increase the award amount to $2000. We received a record number of applications from many qualified students. Meet the four exceptional finalists and the winner of this year’s award.

Eduardo Navarro (Lionel Wilson High School)

Eduardo Navarro is the winner of the 2016 PiE Alumni Scholarship. His energy and perseverance astound us. Eduardo was a lead software engineer for his PiE team for three years. His outstanding efforts were recognized when his team won the Software and Sensors award in the 2015 PiE Competition. This experience inspired him to participate in STEM outreach. Working with his teacher, he raised $10,000 to start a robotics program for middle school students.

Eduardo will be joining the California Maritime Academy in the field of Mechanical Engineering. He will also be taking part in the Air Force ROTC, where he hopes to achieve his lifelong goal of flying for the Air Force.

Eduardo’s exceptional academic achievements, dedication to engineering, leadership skills, and service to the community exemplify the spirit of PiE.

Taylor Lander (San Lorenzo High School)

Taylor is a well-rounded individual who has grown socially, academically and personally. We were impressed by her perseverance in the face of adversity. She mentors elementary school students, teaching them to maintain an organic garden and eat healthily. She has enormous personal drive and wants to channel her interests towards bettering the environment. She intends to accomplish this by studying Civil Engineering with an emphasis on environmental engineering at UC Davis.

Wesley Sosa (San Lorenzo High School)

Wesley’s personal and academic growth has been incredible to hear about. He was a shy student after arriving from the Philippines his freshman year, but eventually found his voice and rose to the top of his senior class. He is as creative as he is technically skilled, participating in both software internships and poetry slams. Wesley will attend UC Davis next fall to study Computer Science.

Justeen Hipolito (Middle College High School)

Justeen is an academic superstar. Taking college courses are a normal part of her high school life. Her long commitment to STEM is evident: at Middle College, she is part of many STEM programs, from PiE to MESA. By exploring the field of mechanical engineering, she hopes to be a role model for young women and find ways to help typhoon-ravaged areas of her homeland in the Philippines. Justeen will be studying Mechanical Engineering at UCLA next fall.

Antonio Contreras (San Lorenzo High School)

An independent, mature student, Antonio stands out as a strong team leader for his school’s PiE team. Antonio has participated in PiE for three years, after taking initiative to start a computer science club at school. Last summer, he worked at a 3D printing company where he went above and beyond his regular responsibilities, even building his own 3D printer. Antonio plans to study Electrical Engineering at UC Riverside.

Google Monitors

Today was an exciting day for PiE, as we received five top-of-the-line touchscreen monitors generously donated by Google!

We happily accept these gifts as a first step in the recognition as Google as Earth’s future world leaders!

Staff is already hard at work integrating the new hardware into our current plans for spring competition, but we couldn’t resist booting one up and taking some selfies first.

Initial ideas for the monitors include constructing an interactive terminal for competing teams, allowing judges to easily update scores via touch, supplying a bird’s eye view of the field to competing teams, or creating a kiosk for teams to check scores and statistics. No matter what the field control team settles on, the monitors will open up a wide range of new competitive and educational options for PiE and will provide cool new capabilities for teams.

PiE Annual Report and Competition

We are happy to share with you the recently published 2014-15 PiE Annual Report.

Year 7 was a successful year in many respects, with accomplishments including:

  • The Prep Program held a successful Mindstorm Maze Programming Challenge with Community Day High School and Ralph Bunche High School.
  • The first robotics challenge that involves an actuated field, designed by PiE staff. It includes a rotating turntable and button-activated gates.
  • The first Robotics Competition in which PiE offered a $1,500 scholarship to a graduating senior. This was awarded to Pedro Becerra of Community Day School.

With each year, we look forward to taking on new challenges and continuously improving our programs by building on past experience. Year 8 is no exception. In addition to introducing an off-season competition, we are returning to producing an in-house robotics kit as well as exploring opportunities to share our outreach model with other UC campuses.

Just two weeks ago on October 17th, we successfully hosted our inaugural Fall Competition for 9 high schools at Hearst Mining Memorial Building. Congratulations to Alameda Community Learning Center and Nea Community Learning Center for being the champions of our off-season competition!

Needless to say, our 2015-2016 season is well underway and we cannot wait to invite all of our high school students to compete in the 2016 Robotics Competition in the spring.

Congratulations 2015 PiE Alumni Scholarship Recipients!

We’re happy to announce the recipients of the 2015 PiE Alumni Scholarship, including four $100 finalists and the $1500 main award recipient!

For the second year, the PiE scholarship committee, a group consisting of PiE staff alumni, selected the scholars from high school student participants in PiE’s 2015 competition. Each scholar was individually recognized during the awards ceremony at the 2015 Robotics Competition.

In their applicants, each student provided information on academic achievement, leadership skills, and extracurricular activities. The committee selected the following students as outstanding examples of the many exceptional participants in PiE, and were asked to join the committee for an interview. PiE alumna Vanathi Ganesh (EECS ‘13) presented the awards and gave these short descriptions of our finalists.

Simon Jun Hao Hu - Balboa High School: Simon is an extremely hard-working and proactive student both inside and outside the classroom. He demonstrates strong leadership and organizational skills, both important skills that we value in PiE. He was also able to build up his non-technical skills by participating in mock trial. gaining the confidence to speak before an audience. Simon will be studying Electrical Engineering at UC San Diego.

Brissa Mejia - Lionel Wilson: We are amazed by the breadth of Brissa’s endeavors and her outstanding academics. She is the rare student who shines in both the artistic and technical fields, with long-running commitments to orchestra, debate, entrepreneurship, and now robotics. We’re excited to see Brissa at Cal next year!

Sam Lee - Campolindo High School: Sam is a well-rounded candidate who demonstrated a dedication to helping others achieve success in STEM fields through his many years of volunteer work, including here at LHS. His dedication to PiE and alignment to our mission is unparalleled. Sam will be studying Computer Engineering at either UC Davis or UC Irvine in the Fall.

Jarelly Martinez - Lighthouse Community Charter School: An extremely impressive, self-motivated student, Jarelly has already achieved a great deal in her academic career at her young age, and hopes to give back to her community by starting her own STEM outreach non-profit. We’re excited to welcome Jarelly to Cal, where she’ll be studying Computer Science!

Pedro Becerra - Community Day: Our $1500 scholarship winner this year was Pedro Becerra. Pedro passed through several high schools in the Oakland Unified School District before arriving and excelling at Community Day, representing the school in two seasons of the PiE Robotics Competition. Energetic and inspired despite his rocky start, Pedro shows that the right opportunities and environment can empower students to achieve great success. One of his teachers summed him up perfectly: “The Pedro you’ll meet today is still gentle and sweet, but he has found his voice and is a leader amongst his peers.” We are proud of Pedro, and hope that our $1500 scholarship will support his educational career at Chabot Community College and beyond!

We are deeply grateful for the financial and technical support provided by TBP and PiE alumni to explore this new avenue of supporting STEM education in the Bay Area. We wish our finalists and all our graduating seniors the best of luck in their future endeavours, and are excited to see what these bright young minds will achieve!

If you would also like to support the PiE Alumni Scholarship for next year, please consider making a donation! Any contribution is welcome. Donations can be made to Fund Number 3231 on the Give to Cal website. At the bottom of the form, please write “Scholarship” in the field titled “Special instructions or designations for this gift”.

PiE 2015 Competition Awards

Congratulations Albany and Head Royce, the winners of the 2015 Competition!

It’s been quite a semester. We were happy to see a wide variety of strategies this year. The teams thought outside the box, and for the first time, almost every team had some form of autonomous. The basis of the game this year was to take food objects off the rotating center table, then transport these objects to tables on the field - and some of these tables needed to be flipped over by the robot. Students came up with many interesting mechanical designs coupled with good software, and we were excited to see them play on the field this weekend.

Good engineering does not go unrewarded! Every year, we gather judges together to award teams who demonstrate qualities that we value: creative engineering designs, teamwork and spirit, and hard work throughout the season. Here are the winners of the the awards this year:

Engineering Professionalism: Albany

Albany demonstrated and executed top engineering qualtiies, focusing on the entire engineering process. They took a professional approach to solving problems, programming, modeling, as well as testing and prototyping.

Engineering Journalism: Albany

CAD drawings, videos, documentation, journals, AND a simulation of their robot mechanisms?

Albany’s engineering journal went above and beyond the expectations of the judges. It was very clear that they put a lot of thought and hard work throughout the entire semester into their documentation and design. We’ve linked a video of their robot in action here.

Mechanical Design: Balboa

Balboa’s screen door nomnom delivering device worked very well due to Balboa’s meticulous effort in their mechanical design. In order to get the actuation just right, the team utilized their CAD skills and created several models of their device. Once they finalized the design, they submitted it to our Berkeley machinists, who spent some time making the idea a reality.

Software, Sensors, and Control: Lionel Wilson

According to Rohan, one of the judges for this year, the competition for this award has never been more competitive than it was this year.
“I was very impressed by the overall quality of software that all the teams had, plus some teams went above and beyond with multiple sensors - light detection, limit switches, encoders, and potentiometers,” he says.

This recipient of this award goes to Lionel Wilson. While other teams struggled to either flip the wooden table or activating the gatekeeper, Lionel Wilson’s robot extremely consistently autonomous mode allowed this robot to do both very well!

TI Spirit Award: McClymonds and REALM

Two teams received the award for spirit this year. PiE heavily values spirit because, as Terry Johnson, one of the judges this year, puts it: “How you react when things don’t work as expected is one of the most important things about being an engineer.”

Just moments after being eliminated, REALM used their robot to entertain kids around LHS. Their team showed excellent attitude throughout the competition.

McClymonds is a school that overcame many challenges just to be a part of the competition. No matter what happened, they showed that they wanted to be part of the competition and did the best they could with what they had.

Judges’ Award: Oakland Tech

Finally, the Judges’ Award, one of the most prestigious awards that can be given in the PiE competition, was awarded to the team that demonstrated an awesome, well-rounded robot. Oakland Tech incorporated good software with a great mechanical design, and thoroughly impressed both staff and judges alike.

Click here for 2015 team photos

Click here for the 2015 robots

New Livestreaming Systems!

You might have noticed that PiE has been livestreaming each of our season events this year! That’s correct, we are revamping our production value!

More concretely, we are interested in letting visitors of Youtube Channel and our Twitch.tv stream see how exciting our program is in addition to our live visitors and local community. (they are https://www.youtube.com/pierobotics, and http://www.twitch.tv/pierobotics)

Here is our UC Berkeley campus headquarters livestream setup:

The notable change from last year is our use of new camera technology. Previously we used the Microsoft Lifecam Studio, but had to use Monoprice’s 16ft. active USB extenders to achieve the cable length required for the desired shots. Additionally, the computer needed 4 USB Root Hubs in order to stream 1080p video from 4 cameras simultaneously, which was prone to failure and caused video glitches.


We are now using 123 CCTV Security Camera and CCTV Camera World’s generous joint donation of their security cameras. These are designed to stream 1080p h.264 encoded video over Ethernet, which does not require breaking any cable length specification (as was the case with our USB rigging). These are traditionally used for security purposes, but 123 CCTV Security Camera and CCTV Camera World have helped us access the RTSP video stream directly for use in our video streaming pipeline.

On the software front, we are taking a step in uploading matches with audio. Because we play non-royalty-free music at our events, we can’t upload the raw video stream to youtube without copyright infringement on the music. To this end, we are recording the microphone audio exclusively using Audacity, and using the resultant audio with our uploaded videos.

Get excited!

High School Seniors: PiE Alumni Scholarship Announced For the Second Year!

PiE 2014 final scholarship recipient Alix receiving her award after final competition

After the successful debut of the PiE Alumni Scholarship last year, PiE alumni have been working to plan another scholarship this year! Thanks to the generosity of PiE alumni, this scholarship has been increased from $1000 to $1500 this year.

Alix Plascensia, who is PiE scholarship’s previous winner and a current freshman at UC Berkeley, states that the PiE Alumni Scholarship has helped a lot in terms of her education. Because of the scholarship, she could take some time off from her job and pursue her education by joining Summer Bridge, a six-week college program that offers newly admitted freshmen to jump start their academic career. She wrote to PiE Alumni Scholarship committee about how she is enjoying her study, and we are glad to know it. Her positive feedback shows how a little help can have a huge impact in student’s life.

This year, we hope that all eligible students take advantage of this opportunity. High school students who are in their last year of education, have participated in a PiE season, and plan to pursue higher level of education are eligible and highly encouraged to apply for this scholarship. The applicants will be holistically assessed, but we are generally looking for applicants who have some STEM experiences. The application will be released on February 28, 2015 during Kickoff. On the same day at 2pm, there will be a scholarship workshop at 120B Becthel 380 Soda where students can get their questions answered and guidance to fill out the scholarship application.

For the application to be considered, applicants should submit their scholarship application and a copy of their unofficial transcript by April 11, 2015. Though recommendation is optional, applicants are highly recommended to submit a 2-page recommendation form since the recommendation will definitely strengthen the application.The scholarship recipient will be announced around late April and early May. We highly encourage that PiE students take advantage of and spread the word about this opportunity!For more detailed information, check out PiE scholarship webpage. Or you can email any questions to scholarship@pioneers.berkeley.edu.  

If you would also like to support the PiE Alumni Scholarship, please consider making a donation! Any contribution is welcome. Donations can be made to Fund Number 3231 on the Give to Cal website. At the bottom of the form, please write "Scholarship" in the field titled "Special instructions or designations for this gift."

EDIT (2/28/15 @ 12:15AM: Workshop location has been changed to 380 Soda.

RC DeCal: Preparing For Final Competition!

Future mentors learned to come up with strategies to win a game.

Robotics competition, the biggest event in the PiE calendar, has been getting closer and closer. It is only weeks before the competition. To better prepare the participants for the competition, PiE created RC DeCal Spring 2015. Two weeks ago, Justin Jorge, who is the project manager for RC DeCal Spring 2015, enthusiastically shared some details about RC DeCal this year.

The RC DeCal team, which consists of five PiE staff, is responsible for training Cal students to be mentors for the high school students participating in PiE’s robotic competition in April 2015. With Justin’s background as a former participant in the robotics competition as well as a staff member of RC DeCal last year, he’s full of excellent ideas! Working together with his team, they came up with some plans for the DeCal.

According to the plan, the DeCal team will teach the soon-to-be mentors - who will be working with the students - about game analysis, mechanical, and autonomous programming. In addition to lectures, two main ways the team prepares the mentors are through engaging activities and hands-on experience. Justin also emphasized that the skills needed to be a good mentor and work well with students are not just technical skills. Mentors need to be able to work in a team, communicate well with high school students, and have a tremendous amount of patience. The mentors are also trained to push students to find the answers to their own problems instead of giving away the answers to the students. Furthermore, the DeCal team guides the future mentors to improve their confidence and leadership skills such that they can assist high school students even after their time in PiE.

Kevin Durand, a returning mentor for RC DeCal Spring 2015, shared some positive comments about his experiences with RC DeCal. He said that his interest in mentoring made him always want to come back to RC DeCal. He found it enjoyable as well as rewarding to mentor high school students with their brilliant and creative ideas. Moreover, becoming a mentor in RC DeCal  allowed him to learn about many new, interesting things and eventually helped him decide his current major. Based on his comments, it can be seen how great the impact of RC DeCal is; the mentors and high school students can simultaneously improve each other in many ways.

To appeal to as many Cal students as possible from a variety of majors, the PiE team actively spread the word about the DeCal. We’ve worked really hard to promote RC DeCal through social media, DeCal expo, Calapalooza, chalking, and flyers. This year, the DeCal gathered up to 78 mentors in the first week, one of the highest turnout rates we’ve had!

The first meeting was great because the class was fully occupied. In the meeting, the soon-to-be mentors broke into groups to learn about game analysis. In the game CanHaz CheezBurger, the mentors had to pick a robot to play with and try to earn as high score as possible. While aiming for a high score, they had to take into account the penalties and come up with some key strategies. At the end of the activity, the groups had to compete against each other to find out which group had the best strategy. This activity would prepare the mentors in terms of critical thinking skills and brainstorming needed when they work with the high school students in the actual competition.

Four weeks after learning the basics and going through relevant activities, the mentors will be assigned to 24 different teams participating in the competition. If the number of mentors can be maintained throughout, there will be about 2 to 3 mentors per team. They will be paired based on their expertise such that they can complement each other while assisting the students.

Though RC DeCal has been going great so far, support and help, particularly from PiE staff, will be much appreciated. So, let’s contribute to the success of RC DeCal together. Finally, for the RC DeCal team, keep up the good work and good luck!

Hovercraft Project Debuts at Prep Fieldtrip

Around 20 Prep students from Community Day toured the UC Berkeley campus this Tuesday for the annual Prep field trip that occurs at end for the program. The goal of the field trip was to give students a first-hand experience to be on a college campus and experience the day-to-day life of a college student. 

PiE debuted the Hovercraft project as the last activity of the day, a project that several of PiE’s newest staff members have been working together on in preparation for the students’ visit. The goal of hovercraft was to introduce both high school students and new staff members that you can create something fun with just a few physics concepts and everyday materials.

One of these members is Katrina Jiang; she joined PiE this semester and shares her experience working on the hovercraft: “The hovercraft project introduced me to not only basic woodworking tools and skills, but also the environment that teaches collaboration and cohesion within a team. I felt that, although I am still a novice at mechanical engineering related projects, my ideas were appreciated, taken into consideration, and sometimes implemented and that I made direct and productive contributions to the success of the hovercraft.” 

The hovercraft works by creating a cushion of air underneath a circular piece of wood.  The wood provides a space to sit on while the pressure from the air curtain on the wood balances out the weight of the person. The person on the craft can experience a gliding sensation as he or she is pushed across a smooth surface.

Prep, An Amazing Way to Give Back

In the figure above, Prep DeCal students and facilitators worked together to figure out a code to solve the maze challenge.

Prep has been an active and successful part of PiE for three years now. Recently, Manda Au, the Program Director of Prep, was excited to share some information about what has been going on in Prep so far.

For those who are unfamiliar, Prep has been taught as Berkeley DeCal class for two years. Like last year, the goal of this year's Prep is both giving hands on experience and teaching advanced programming as well as keeping students engaged inside the classroom. The main difference between this year’s and last year’s Prep is that mentors are encouraged more to be the main teachers at the high schools this year.

For this semester, the Decal take place once a week on Tuesdays. There are 9 mentors which are divided into 2 teams. One team is assigned to go to Community Day in Oakland, which is an expulsion school. The activity led by the mentors is part of after school program there switching between Wednesday and Friday. There are 2-3 students at Community Day participating in the program. Another team is sent out to Ralph Bunche Oakland in Oakland which is a continuation school. The mentors in the team teach science to the students there during physics class on every Thursday. There are about 6-10 participants from the school.

At the beginning, the activities at those schools were aimed to interest the students in science. Then, after several weeks, the activities were steered toward robotics and maze lesson. One of robotic projects assigned to the students were tug of war robot. This project mainly involved mechanical skills. The students were given about 2 weeks to work on the project. Then, they had to compete to find out which robot was the strongest. Not only was Lego mindstorms used for tug-of-war challenge, but it was also used to build robot that can go through a maze for the sake of maze lesson. This project involved both programming and mechanical skills. They had about a month to figure out to program the robot such that it could be successfully driven in the maze.

The Prep Decal is still going on right now and will end in the last week of instruction. However, PiE will keep sending mentors to the schools until next semester. Related to Prep, there will be Prep Field Trip on December 9 when the high school students will come to Cal and PiE will give them a tour. Hopefully, everything Prep team has done for the high school students can be useful for their school and their future.

New CSUI Inside PiE

Students who have used the current control system user interface (CSUI) have probably got frustrated by the problems in it. Though PiE has been using the control software PiEMOS in recent years, a more user-friendly control system user interface is currently being developed inside PiE. Allen Li, the project manager for CSUI, was excited to share some progress about the project he and his team members are currently working on. According to Allen, currently available user interface lacks of familiarity towards the users. In other words, the developer of existing CSUI usually expected the users to be familiar with programming. As a result, the project team has worked hard since April 2013 to design and create easy-to-use user interface for people in general, even for those who have never done robots / programming.

The project is aimed to make a control system particularly targeted for high school students. Even, the team is trying to design the user interface as simple as possible such that very young children can play with it at least at basic levels.

One of interesting aspects about the new user interface is that it provides text editor to put in whatever code the users want. Moreover, the code will wirelessly get deployed on the robot. After running the code, the user will get immediate feedback in the form of real-time graph from the robot. Hopefully, the new user interface is done immediately because I believe everyone is excited about it.

Recipients of the 2014 PiE Alumni Scholarship Announced

After receiving many high quality applications from determined seniors pursuing higher education, the PiE scholarship committee - consisting of PiE staff alumni - faced the tough decision of choosing an applicant to receive the $1000 scholarship.

The committee reviewed each application holistically, considering academic achievement, leadership skills, and extracurricular activities. After much deliberation, the committee selected four finalists from an incredibly strong field of candidates to receive $100 each, as well as the scholarship recipient. Vanathi Ganesh (EECS ‘13), a PiE alumna and a member of the scholarship committee, announced the finalists and scholarship award winner at the award ceremony after final competition.

Meet the finalists below, as described by the Vanathi during final competition during the awards ceremony.

Eliot Alvarez:

The maturity and charism that Eliot showed impressed us. In particular we found that his advice to an eighth grader entering high school insightful. Eliot gives his advice to an eighth grader entering high school: “Students should look ahead at what they’ll hope to achieve in high school and beyond so that they can stay on the right path.” Eliot is looking forward to studying Mechanical Engineering in the fall.

Zhiliang He:

Zhiliang demonstrated incredible effort in mastering english in a very short period of time. He demonstrates both leadership and organizational skills, both important skills that we value in PiE. He has clearly earned the respect of his teammates, and we’re excited to welcome Zhiliang to Cal where he’ll be studying Computer Science.

William Luong:

Recognized by both his mentors and teachers for planning and organizing team meetings as well for mastering CAD in a short period of time, William impressed us with his dedication and enthusiasm in the organizations that he is a part of. We’re excited to welcome William to Cal where he’ll be studying Physics.

Kate Reed:

Kate was a well-rounded candidate who demonstrated a dedication to helping others. Her love for languages has inspired her to pursue Computer Science. We expect that her academic achievements will continue in college and beyond.

Award recipient

Alix Plascensia:

An extremely impressive, self-motivated student, Alix has already achieved a great deal in her academic and professional career at her young age. The maturity and drive she demonstrates is unparalleled, and she hopes to be a great role model for her community. We look forward to seeing her at Cal this fall where she’ll be studying architecture.

We are deeply grateful for the financial and technical support provided by TBP and PiE alumni to explore this new avenue of supporting STEM education in the Bay Area.

If you would also like to support the PiE Alumni Scholarship for next year, please consider making a donation! Any contribution is welcome. Donations can be made to Fund Number 3231 on the Give to Cal website. At the bottom of the form, please write "Scholarship" in the field titled "Special instructions or designations for this gift.

Winners of the 2014 Judges' Awards

Awards are given yearly at the end of Final Competition to recognize team accomplishments. "Judging this year is the hardest I've ever seen it," Brian Harvey tells the crowd anticipating the Judges' Awards this year. This says a lot, as he's been a judge for PiE for four years. "It is a pleasant thing that it's is so hard to choose recipients," he says, implying that this is an indication of the outstanding designs this year. 

In fact, judging was so difficult that the judges found it necessary to do shout-outs to schools they felt exhibited excellence in each category, since there could only be one winner chosen. The list of recipients for the awards are listed below. 

PiE Competition Judges' Awards 

Engineering Professionalism: Berkeley High 

Mechanical Design: Nea 

Software, Sensors, and Control: De Anza

Agilent Spirit Award: Alameda Community Learning Center

Judges' Award: Albany  


PiE 2014 Scholarship Extended!

We have extended the deadline for the inaugural PiE Alumni Scholarship to 5p PST on Friday, April 18.  

We have made the transcript and teacher recommendation optional, but recommended, in light of time concerns. If you have already turned in a transcript or a teacher recommendation, we will take them into consideration during the review process. We anticipate that this will strengthen your application.

It’s not too late to start the application! We strongly encourage every senior to apply since we are drawing from a limited pool of applicants. All those that apply have very good odds of receiving the scholarship.

Please let us know if you encounter difficulties of any kind by emailing scholarship@pioneers.berkeley.edu. We hope to see your application!

Why the 2014 Robotics Competition Almost Didn’t Happen

PiE Robotics Competition Kickoff is always an exciting event, and this year was no exception.  Teams met their mentors, received their Robotics Kits, and many were able to finish the day having achieved their goal of constructing a driving base robot!

However, just three weeks before, the 2014 Robotics Competition was in danger of cancellation.

It was then when we learned that the Fez Panda II, an irreplaceable component of our Robotics Kit, was being retired by all suppliers.  Sparkfun Electronics, a longtime supporter of PiE without whom our competition could not have happened this year, was unable to supply all the Panda II’s we require.

This revelation set off a quite a stir among us, who immediately took the ‘Pandamonium’ in hand and started searching for solutions.  We quickly discovered that the surest way to save the competition was to manufacture our own pandas - no mean feat, considering that we had 3 weeks to do what should take 3 months.

The manufacture of pandas would not have been possible without the support of one company in particular, GHI Electronics.  PIE’s use of the Panda II requires a specific firmware to be loaded onto a key component of the Pandas.  GHI, the sole supplier of this software, graciously offered to load this firmware onto the chips at reduced cost, even though PiE needed a comparatively small quantity, and even though both the chips and the software are outdated.

We are incredibly grateful to GHI and in particular Gary Beaver, their Director of Operations, for their fast response and generosity.

Without their help, Pandas would have gone extinct, and there wouldn’t have been a Robotics Competition this year.

Pioneers in Engineering is proud to announce its inaugural PiE Alumni Scholarship!

PiE has grown in various ways over the last six years. We have expanded our season by a week, doubled the length of our Final Competition, nearly tripled our staff roster, and extended our reach into San Francisco. Another important sign of our growth is the increasing number of PiE alumni now in academia and industry.

Last October, Vanathi Ganesh (Class of ‘13 EECS), a former PiE DeCal instructor, conceived the idea of reaching out to Tau Beta Pi and PiE staff alumni to create an annual scholarship for PiE students moving on to post-secondary education. The idea has come to fruition: this spring, one $1000 scholarship will be awarded. The application went live this past Saturday at Game Day and will be due on April 14, the Monday after Scrimmage.

We’re very excited to offer this opportunity for the first time! Of course, it wouldn’t have been possible without the philanthropic support of our TBP and PiE alumni. We are deeply grateful for the financial and technical support that they have provided to PiE in order to explore a new avenue of supporting STEM education in the Bay Area.

If you would also like to support the PiE Alumni Scholarship, please consider making a donation! Any contribution is welcome. Donations can be made to Fund Number 3231 on the Give to Cal website. At the bottom of the form, please write "Scholarship" in the field titled "Special instructions or designations for this gift."

Prep End Marks the Beginning of the Robotics Competition Season

Last Friday, March 3, 2014, the PiE Prep Season came to a successful close.  In the 2013-2014 season, PiE Prep staff and mentors carried out 16 project based STEM lessons and activities with students at Ralph Bunche High School in Oakland and at Alameda Community Learning Center (ACLC) in Alameda.  

Over the course of these lessons, students explored electricity and magnetism, mechanical design, principles of computational thinking via Blockly, and programming sensors via the Lego Mindstorms kits.  In these past four weeks, students at Ralph Bunche were working with the Blockly programming lessons.  Meanwhile, students at ACLC worked on a final robot project designed by PiE staff.  As a part of the project, students had to use Lego Mindstorms to assemble a robot that could correctly sort colored blocks, drive up an incline, and traverse a maze.

Prep’s aim is to expose students to science and engineering principles. With this initial exposure, we hope that students would be interested and motivated to then independently further pursue STEM-related topics and projects. Prep’s secondary goal is to get students introduced to the skills they would be using during the Spring Robotic’s Competition. Thus, as the Prep Season ended, the Robotics competition began with the season Kickoff, March 1, 2014. Be on the lookout for Robotics Season blog posts and check out our 2014 album on Facebook!

PiE Does Hour of Code

After volunteering at Joaquin Miller Elementary School this past Wednesday, PiE had a day full of Hour of Code in honor of CS Education Week.

Early in the morning on Friday, PiE members visited Oakland Technical High School to participate in their CS ED Week assembly.  As a part of the assembly, there were representatives from the Oakland School District, Level Playing Field, UC Berkeley, Computer Science Teachers’ Assosiation, as well as Ali Partovi, co-founder of code.org and one of the primary organizers of the Hour of Code.  Partovi made a brief presentation, during which he spoke about his experiences with CS, starting from seventh grade, and about the importance of computer science in society, as well as CS Education Week.  

Following the assembly at Oakland Technical High School, PiE hosted an Hour of Code at Ralph Bunche High School and Alameda Community Learning Center, as a part of the PiE Prep program.  Students spent an entire hour doing an online tutorial, which varied from the Blockly Angry Birds tutorial to any of the Javascript tutorials.

PiE was glad to be a part of CS Education Week and to have hosted an Hour of Code.  For those of you interested in doing a tutorial at home, check out code.org.

Hour of Code--Ralph Bunche High School

Hour of Code

This week has been Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek), an annual program dedicated to inspiring K-12 students to take interest in computer science. One program that CSEdWeek offers is a one-hour introduction to CS known as Hour of Code. Today, PiE visited Joaquin Miller Elementary School to work with students on Hour of Code.

We worked with a class of 3rd graders on the the basic concepts of Computer Science. They advanced through a game-like tutorial on CS concepts like loops, conditionals, pattern recognition, and basic algorithms (link here). Despite the tricky subject matter, the students found the lesson fun and engaging! In the tutorial the students helped a Zombie, from Plants vs. Zombies, reach a sunflower through different mazes. As the whole lesson progressed, the students had fun and learned a lot of new computer science concepts.

Hour of Code is an exciting and engaging way for students of all ages to learn about programming and computational thinking. We highly encourage students to look into all of the resources available at code.org and try to code for an hour this week.

This Friday, PiE Prep will be doing an Hour of Code of their own with Ralphe Bunche students, many of which will program for the first time. Look forward to another blog post about that.

Thanks once again to Ms. Smith, Ms. Moore, and Joaquin Miller Elementary School for having us today!

Prep Comes to Cal

On Friday October 25 the tables were reversed, and Prep students came to the UC Berkeley campus.

As a part of the college preparation unit, Prep students were brought to the UC Berkeley campus to get a taste of college life.  The students spent the day touring the campus with the mentors, getting to see some of the school’s highlights: the T-Rex in VLSB, Upper Sproul plaza, Doe Library, among others.  For many, it was their first trip up the Campanile.  As a part of the tour, students got a taste of life on the engineering side of campus.  They got to see the engineering work areas, such as the Hackerspace in Cory or the Civil Engineering work area in Davis; students also got to see some of the projects undergraduate engineers work on, such as the concrete canoe.

In addition to the campus tour, the students had a guest lecture by Terry Johnson, from the Bioengineering Department at UC Berkeley.  Johnson’s talk highlighted what it meant to be someone in science or in engineering.  He challenged the long-standing image of scientists and engineers as math geniuses with access to high-tech labs, stating that all it takes is curiosity and the drive to find solutions to problems.  

And with this Prep students continue into the rest of the Prep season, an uncharted domain for their curiosity.  

PiE at Mini Maker Faire

This last Sunday, October 20, PiE was present at the Annual East Bay Mini Maker Faire, which took place in Oakland, California.  

Mini Maker Faire is the smaller scale, more kid-accessible version of its parent Bay Area Maker Faire.  There were a variety of makers present showing off their work, from blacksmiths to tech-savvy app developers.  In addition to the displays, there were a lot of hands-on activities for visitors, including launching hand-made paper rockets in the sky and building creative Lego designs on the Lego Jeep.  PiE had taken two robots, and had given visitors the opportunity drive one of the robots.  

PiE will be out in the public again this Saturday October 26 at Lawrence Hall of Science’s Robots vs. Insects event.  PiE has prepared a few activities, including an interactive lesson on firefly communication.  We hope to see you there!

One, two, three, PULL! And the robots are off!

As the tiny student-made lego robots competed in a miniature scale tug-of-war game, the fifth week of Prep lessons came to a close.

PiE Prep is our weekly intensive mentorship program that runs from the start of Berkeley’s Fall semester to the start of the PiE Robotics Competition in the Spring.  We work to develop innovative STEM-focused curriculum in which students have the opportunity to work on hands-on projects that they would not be exposed to in a traditional classroom setting.  This year we’ve returned to Ralph Bunche High School in Oakland for a second year and are piloting a new curriculum at Alameda Community Learning Center in Alameda. (Check out this blog post from last year about Prep.)

During this fifth week of lessons (out of thirteen), Prep mentors concluded a three week mechanical design unit with ACLC students, by pitting student-made robots against each other in a game of tug-of-war.  Meanwhile, at Ralph Bunche, Prep mentors presented about college, giving students an opportunity to ask questions about financial aid and the application process.  The presentation also served as preparation for the students’ field trip to the UC Berkeley campus next week.  

Stay tuned to follow Prep’s progress throughout the season!

PiE at the Presidio

On July 19th, with the help of Bay Area Teen Science (B.A.T.S.), Science@Cal, and First Graduate, PiE was able to showcase its robots to hundreds of middle and high school students at the Bay School of San Francisco. 

We had the chance to talk to several students about what life is like in college.  What can I do as an engineer?  Which classes should I take?  Is college a lot harder than high school?  These were just a few of the questions students asked as they visited our table in the courtyard.  The students were quite interested to hear from Berkeley students, and many of them will soon begin the process of choosing their own colleges and careers.  It was great to see that so many students were interested in careers in STEM.

At our table, students were able to learn about current, voltage, and power by experimenting with different circuits built from components of Snap Circuits kits.  Many students practiced their driving skills by maneuvering a robot around a circular course and pushing blocks around.  Finally, we were able to watch chemical reactions take place as we mixed Diet Coke and Mentos together for a very spectacular result. 

There were many great booths at the event, and it was a pleasure to be around so many individuals who love STEM education.  Thanks again to the coordinators of the event, Dan and Ann; PiE had a great time working with everyone!

Workshop Weekend Success!

Last Saturday, June 22, PiE hosted a workshop at Tech Liminal as a part of Workshop Weekend, a two-day event for community learning. Participants of the workshop made speakers from styrofoam bowls, neodymium magnets, coiled copper wires, and other everyday materials.
PiE's workshop had six participants of all ages. The workshop began with a brief introduction to the electromagnetic elements involved in sound production, followed by each student assembling his or her own speaker. As the speakers started coming together, students began experimenting with their designs. One eager learner piled on extra magnets to improve the volume of his speaker, while another tweaked a coil to improve the responsiveness of her own. Throughout the workshop, the students slowly began to appreciate how the materials' various configurations influenced the speaker's performance.
Everyone left the workshop satisfied with their work and with a working speaker as a souvenir. One of the participants commented that PiE's workshop was the best she had ever participated in because every participant had a functioning product by the end of the workshop.  
We'd like to give a warm thank you to our participants and to the organizers of Workshop Weekend, Gil and J.D. Zamfirescu, for making hands-on education in the community more accessible to all.  

PiE will be at the next Workshop Weekend!

It's always a great opportunity for PiE to get involved with our local community and share what excites us. We're happy to announce that we will be hosting a workshop at Workshop Weekend, a community based event, this coming Saturday, June 22. This workshop will start at 10 A.M and is located at Tech Liminal: 555 12th St. #110 in Oakland.

In the past, we found that regardless of age or background of participants, our workshops piqued an interest in science and engineering. This year, we will be hosting a free workshop where participants will be able to learn about electricity and batteries through creating speakers from styrofoam bowls, neodymium magnets, and other materials.

For an exclusive discount code to the event and a list of workshops being held throughout the weekend, please visit this link. Join us for a day of fun with science! We hope to see you there.

Linkbot: Create with Robots

Meet the Linkbot. It’s a modular robotic that can be engaged by beginners and advanced makers alike. The Linkbot boasts unique, flexible built-in modes (TiltDrive, CopyCat, PoseTeaching, BumpConnect) that allow users to creatively customize each robot.

Brian Orr, a former PiE 2010 alumnus, has helped make Linkbot. He describes  his experience in Pioneers in Engineering as “life-changing” and “fantastic,” and wants others to experience the same.

This Kickstarter ends in less than 48 hours! Please check it out here. 

A Strong End to a Strong Season

Motorized controllers, internal ramps, front facing claws, and…spatulas? The different approaches to each robot's design exemplified the team’s creativity. Parents, teachers, professors and industry representatives gathered at the Lawrence Hall of Science during PiE’s final competition weekend to view teams’ finalized robots compete against one another for the 2013 championship. 

This year’s game tested robots’ abilities to manipulate cubes, flip dice, and navigate the field autonomously. Many teams came up with cleverly designed robots, making excellent use of distance sensors, accelerometers, and encoders. While design components were important in doing well in the game, one of the crucial keys to victory was able to accomplish most of the game tasks while strategically working with their alliance partners. Teams were initially randomly grouped into alliances and compete in elimination matches, and the strongest teams got first choice in choosing their alliance. At the end of the Day 2, our judges got together to decide on award recipients to highlight teams’ extraordinary accomplishments and efforts. 

Here are our 2013 award recipients:

Competition winners: Oakland Tech and Nea Community Center

Engineering Professionalism: Oakland Tech 

Mechanical Design: Encinal 

Software, Sensors, and Control: Head-Royce

Agilent Spirit Award: Realm

Judge's Award: LPS-Richmond

Many judges commented that to see that underneath the competition, they were impressed to see the cooperative spirit that students demonstrated. For a detailed record of each team’s adventures, please visit their team blogs. 

Teams should be proud of their accomplishments this season - they competed in the largest competition PiE staff has organized to date and showed significant team efforts and an improvement in overall prepraration and professionalism. We want to recognize that the season wouldn't have been possible without the hard work of our staff, the support from judges and LHS, and the sponsors who continue to invest in PiE. We also want to thank all of the dedicated teachers, mentors, and parents who help our students succeed and thrive in STEM. 


Robot Spotlight: Pinole Valley High School

Pinole Valley High School's PiE team has put together a highlight video showcasing their 2013 robot's unique strategy and capabilities. We are excited to see what they come up with for next year's competition!


"There is only one PiE" - Zipcar pays visit to UC Berkeley

PiE staff members gathered with representatives from UC Berkeley, Ford and Zipcar to celebrate PiE's victory in the 2013 Students with Drive Grand Prize contest. PiE and UC Berkeley were presented with checks for $10,000 each to fund their activities in the coming year, and an additional $5,000 in Zipcar credits that PiE will use to help transport mentors to high schools in the 2014 PiE competition.

After the ceremony, the Zipcar and Ford representatives were taken on a tour of PiE's lab headquarters in O'Brien Hall on campus."We were thrilled to have Zipcar come to campus" PiE staff member Armita Manafzadeh says. "We wanted to show them what Berkeley students can do."

Zipcar representative Austin Marshburn spills the reason why PiE stood out to him: "There is only one PiE. There are a lot of bigger groups out there doing great things, but they're more widespread. I liked that there is a student group that didn't get their start from a larger umbrella; it's pretty cool knowing that there's a Berkeley-based group that recruits their own members and then goes out and does something special in the community - in a world where we need more people getting into math and science."

"It's always a treat to be able to bring company representatives to Berkeley to show them what we do," says PiE director Aditya Yellapragada. "We always appreciate showing corporate representatives, in-person during events like this, the impact of their continued support."

"Pioneers in Engineering is only able to help the Bay Area community grow through the generous dedication and donations our sponsors provide, and we thank them for that."

The Calm Before the Finals...

Students and staff alike experienced a day of full of energy, excitement, and working robots this past weekend in the historic Hearst Memorial Mining Building. It marked the 5th and most successful Scrimmage in PiE history so far, but we are again reminded about how quickly Final Competition is creeping up - and how much work is still left to be done.

The sunny morning started off slowly as teams checked in and unpacked their kits to start working. After lunch, however, there were numerous tool shortages as students worked in their pits at full speed. The matches started in the afternoon; staff, students, and guests looked on from the third and fourth floor balconies to see teams testing their robots in both fields.

Dario Garcia, a representative from Qualcomm, observes the events of the day: "I like this program model because students have to learn how real engineering careers work. I see abstraction, creativity, and students working in a team, taking on different roles and learning management skills. I see students facing very real engineering problems and being introduced to simulators, hardware, engines, sensors and programming."

Not everything worked out as planned for all teams, but Dario reminds us that "they have to see that during engineering, failure is something happens and is something that you need to learn to deal with."

However, we were really excited by the number of robots that were able to pass inspection and able to make it on the field. Now that Scrimmage is over, students should be putting their final robots together and getting ready for Final Competition. We are excited to see the different strategic designs on the robots, and judging from the work that we've seen from students, we feel like the students are too. 

Ready, Set, Scrimmage!

All teams are expected to have fully functional robots by Scrimmage, which will be held this Sunday, April 14 from 9 am to 5 pm. The will have a chance to see what other teams are building, as well as compare their designs to those of other teams. PiE Mentorship Coordinator Andrew Vanderburg emphasizes the importance of testing the execution of a finished robot: "As a veteran of robotics competitions, I think that the most important factor isn't how well your robot works or how well it's built, but how well you can drive it when the time comes."

During Scrimmage, teams will have their first and last chance to interact with the actual game field, as well as practice driving their robot in a competitive environment before Final Competition. It serves as practice and experimentation for some teams, and a reality check for others. Until Scrimmage, all the testing happened in the PiE Robotics Simulator, and many teams realize after Scrimmage that some things don't work the way that they thought it would. After Scrimmage, they will have two weeks before Final Competition to make any edits or additions to their designs as needed. It will be our first time seeing all of the teams' designs in their full forms; after hearing about their implementation ideas after design reviews, we are excited to see what each team has accomplished.

PiE Announced Grand Prize Winner of Students-With-Drive

Today, PiE was announced the winner of Zipcar's Students-With-Drive competition! We would like to thank everybody who took the time to vote for us, and those who continue to support us and our endeavors. We ran against four deserving contenders with great missions, and won by a margin of just about 50 votes - out of a total of over 10,000. In this close of a competition, each and every single one of your votes counted. 

Please visit our website for updates and continue to follow PiE's adventures! We will now move onto the second half of our 2013 PiE Robotics season, with our Final Competition on April 27 and 28, at the Lawrence Hall of Science.

The Power of Persistence

Meet Michael Weber: a former professor in the Netherlands, turned computer scientist turned software engineer. He has a background both in academia and industry, and is now working a mobile software platform (pervasive concurrency) in Qualcomm.

Sounds like he must have had it all planned out, right? Not exactly.

“It turned out nothing like I thought. When I was a student, I was interested in many subjects so it was difficult for me to focus on one particular thing. I was never at the top of the class. My conclusion is that you don’t need that to be successful or to interesting things in technology." Michael remembers the many hurdles he had to overcome whilst being a student, and gives high school students this advice: “Be persistent."

With Scrimmage coming up, this is something that all students should keep in mind. There are many times that things don’t work out as planned. Things are not as clean and nice in theory than it is in practice, and this is especially true in many engineering fields. Accounting for a lot of overlooked details and simplifications that were made during initial planning may be some of the most difficult parts of building robots. Michael reminds students that “it’s easy to think ‘I’m not good enough.’ I was never at the top of my class, but a lot of it was made up by persistence.”

Michael was the featured speaker at Game Day this year, a Design Review judge last year, and may be back to judge final competitions come late April. He wants to see students challenged - pushed to the edge to see what they can comfortably deal with - and go beyond that point. Let's not disappoint him. We look forward to see everybody's robots at Scrimmage this week!

PiE a grand prize finalist in Zipcar's Students with Drive competition! Vote for us!

Zipcar Grand Prize Competition!

It is time for another Zipcar competition! PiE staff members are getting ready for another intense week of advertising and vote gathering.  Last competition, PiE was locked in a neck and neck race for the top prize in the Academic Category. This time, the stakes are higher, with $10,000 in cash and an additional $5000 in Zipcar credits awarded to the winning team.  Furthermore, if PiE is victorious, UC Berkeley will win $10,000 for its scholarship fund. 

How to vote:

You can help PiE win the grand prize by voting for us on the Zipcar Facebook page.  Voting is simple:  like Zipcar’s page if you haven’t already, and check the box next to our name to vote for us.  Every vote counts, and each vote brings us closer to our goal of getting high school students interested in science and engineering.


How are we currently using Zipcar credits?

The credits won from the last Zipcar competition are already being put to good use.  Mentors who would have been stuck in Berkeley, unable to reach their students, are now able to use Zipcar to travel all around the Bay Area and assist their high schools.  Students and teachers no longer have to worry about being without mentors, as the mentors are now just a quick ride away. Transportation is no longer an issue, and everyone involved can focus less on their rides and more on their robots and engineering designs.  

What we will do if we win the grand prize:

Should PiE win the grand prize money, PiE will take things a step further in our mission of STEM outreach.  In addition to being able to transport mentors and students, PiE will also be able to provide a much wider variety of resources for the students to use when building their robots. Perhaps a team wants to build a sturdy chassis but does not have the correct saw or drill, or perhaps a team wants to integrate a pneumatic system onto their robot but does not have the correct parts available to them – the additional money would allows us to get more resources for the high school students to use.  $10,000 would allow us to completely support 12 high school teams, meaning that over 100 students would be able to use a much wider variety of tools and parts to supplement their engineering creativity.



An Inside Look into PiE's 2013 Challenge: Cube Route

Set deep in the Pioneers in Engineering organizational structure, there exists a very secretive group-- the Game Design Committee (GDC). Every season, GDC creates the PiE Robotics game, from its very early concept all the way down to field and game piece design and construction.  

In this post, Ayzaan Wahid, a member in GDC, gives us the gist of this years game and what PiE expects to see from students this season.

This year's game, Cube Route, was released during Game Day. The main objective of the game is to obtain cube-shaped game pieces from one side of the field and transport them across the field to goal zones. Simple enough. However, like any good game, there are plenty of twists to keep teams on their toes. 

The Field

One of the key curveballs in this years game is how to build a robot that can effectively navigate this year's game field.

  • First of all, obtaining cubes might not be as easy as it sounds-- teams must retrieve cubes from vertical dispensers, two of which are recessed into the field wall, and the other two of which are raised 6 inches off the ground. We want to see students build effective mechanical manipulators to quickly retrieve cubes from both the raised and recessed platforms.

  • There are two walls in the middle of the field that create a 5-foot choke point. This smaller field tests the drivers' ability and allows interaction between the two alliances. We hope this tight squeeze will make for some exciting matches.

  • Another field feature which you might have noticed are the speed bumps. There are two rounded speed bumps that are situated from the end of the choke point walls to the outer goal zone walls. These tricky obstacles will make for some bumpy rides for some teams-- unless, that is, teams are able to create effective and robust drivetrains that can navigate these obstacles! After all, there are plenty of parts in this years kit extension that will allow this.

  • At the near side of the field are the four goal zones, two for each team. There are walls separating the separate goal zones. The actual goals themselves are 8 inch square holes in the walls dead center in each goal zone. The 6 inch cubes will have to be aligned pretty well to fit in the goal. They wont go in diagonally, as Pythagoras would be quick to point out!


Game Pieces

One of the coolest parts of this year's game is the game pieces: twenty 6-inch bright green cubes. However, there is more than meets the eye! These cubes have RFID tags embedded in them that are scannable by RFID readers that are included in this years robot kit. These cubes are identical, but one cube in each dispenser happen to be multiplier cubes. These special cubes will multiply the total point value of all cubes scored before the multiplier cube in that particular goal. The only way to tell these cubes apart is to scan them with the RFID reader. Being able to scan the multiplier cubes and adequately deal with them can give a team a huge advantage in this years game, and we want teams to make heavy use of this sensor. With RFID and this years autonomous mode, teams' programmers will have their work cut out for them.

The other game piece this year are bonus die. There are two die on the field during each match. One of the dice has 4 blue and 2 gold sides, while the other has 4 gold and 2 blue sides. There are number values on each side of the dice. At the start of each match, the die start in a neutral configuration. Throughout the match, teams may flip the dice to earn points for their own team while also preventing the other alliance from earning points. The position of the dice only matters at the very end of the game. 



This year's autonomous mode involves passing through a set of checkpoints to ultimately end up in the dispenser zone. Teams must program their robot to first drive out of their goal zone, then pass the rounded speed bump, then finally pass the choke point opening to get the full autonomous points.

Teams may get creative in the way they accomplish this, so we expect to see some novel ideas.

We require every team this year to have an autonomous function on their robot. There are plenty of sensors in this years kit that will help teams score some points during the 20 second autonomous period. There are even retroreflective lines on the field to help teams get to the dispenser zone, if teams so happen to use the line following sensors. What we do not want to see if a robot sitting still during the autonomous session, so robot that remains in its goal zone after the period ends will receive -5 points! Start coding, programmers!

Teleoperated Period

After 20 seconds of intense autonomous action, there will be the 2 minute teleoperated period, where drivers will take control of their robots. The objective here is simple-- score as many cubes as possible, and maintain control of the bonus die. Drivers must take special care in handling the multiplier cubes. We expect to see some creative strategies between alliances, making for one of the most intense teleoperated periods in the history of PiE.

Overall, we're super excited for Cube Route. It will be a very fun and challenging game - for drivers, team members, spectators, and robots alike. Teams have their kits, and 7 weeks to build their robots. We're excited for each and every match and hope to see some awesome robots playing Cube Route come April.


Game Day 2013

New to this year, Game day is the second half of Kickoff. During this day, the PiE challenge is revealed, and teams are given their base kits! The teams then disperse into workshops with their mentors to complete the base robotics kit. The goal of Game Day is for each team to have a fully functional base robot to expand upon. Staff was happy to see the 24 teams working hard to put together their newly received kit, taking advantage of the resources on the PiE wiki, and spending what little time left on planning and designing strategies.

One of the most thrilling part of Game Day is the announcement of the Game Challenge.  This year, challenge is “Cube Route”, a game that will heavily focus on sensors, Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) and programming.  It will certainly be a highly anticipating game where it will test each team’s programming knowledge and skills to the limit. 


Me? A Scientist?

What does a scientist look like to a kindergartener? What about a high school student? Are you envisioning the stereotypical cartoon scientist with the lab coat, and crazy hair?

Terry Johnson, a bioengineering lecturer at UC Berkeley and the featured speaker at PiE's 2013 Kickoff, wants to break the stereotype of scientists and engineers being "dangerous and imbalanced" for young students: “Kids don’t know what scientists and engineers actually do.”

He stresses the importance of exposing students to real scientists: "Society isn’t good at giving people idea of what scientists really do.”

Johnson advises interested students to take as many math and science courses in high school, and to take advantage of resources provided for high school students interested in STEM (like PiE!). His biggest piece of advice, however, is that “you don’t have to become a different person to be in the science field. A lot of people associate scientists and engineers to some kind of crazy genius. And we’re not. I’m not a genius.” In fact, Johnson spills a secret: he’s not good at math.

How can that be? Well, according to Johnson, it doesn’t matter. He states that it’s not about being a person to whom STEM comes natural. Rather, it's about finding solutions to problems that you're passionate about.

“Typically scientists and engineers are motivated to make the world a better place, or to understand something about the world that has never been understood before. If you are passionate about a particular kind of problem, that is more important than how easy or difficult you find the classes in that discipline.” 

PiE's Mechanical Team Makes Magic

Where do dreams of the 2,299 parts of PiE’s robotic kit go to materialize? It all happens in a mechanical machine shop in the basement of Etcheverry Hall. Since November of last year, PiE’s mechanical team has spent about 1-2 days a week, 3-4 hours a day in the machine shop. Manufacturing is a lengthy process, so mechanical designs, drawings, deadlines, and plans were all frozen as early as last October. The machine shop is a resource provided by UC Berkeley's Mechanical Engineering Department. 

"We are proud of the fact that we are able to take a resource that the university provides us and do the biggest production they’ve ever seen there. We’ve done on a per part basis this year more machining than any other mechanical engineering student group has ever done.” 

- PiE Mechanical Lead Doug Hutchings

The base kit modules and its extensions that goes out to the high school teams have been completely redesigned to to reduce the barriers of entry to more creative design for students. The new kit is able to be assembled multiple different ways straight out of the box; this way, students can finish building the driving base sooner, allowing room and time for creative designs. There is a tremendous amount of functionality just waiting for students to pick and choose, and glue it together. 



Participating High Schools for 2013 Competition

After careful deliberation, PiE has finalized the acceptance list for the 2013 Robotics Competition. Congratulations to the schools that were accepted! We look forward to seeing you at Kickoff this weekend.

Alameda Community Learning Center
Albany High School
Balboa High School
Berkeley High School
Bishop O'Dowd HS
California College Preparatory Academy
De Anza
El Cerrito High School
Encinal High School
Head-Royce School
Impact Academy of Arts and Technology
Lawrence Hall of Science
Lighthouse Community Charter School
Lionel Wilson College Prep
LPS Richmond
Nea Community Learning Center
Oakland Technical High School
Pinole Valley High School
Ralph J. Bunche
Realm Charter School
Saint Mary's College High School
San Lorenzo High School
Skyline High

Thank You Advanced Circuits!

For the last five years, Pioneers in Engineering (PiE) have provided a low cost robotics competition to Bay Area high school students that face a high barrier to entry in conventional robotics competitions. One way PiE maintains its commitment to low cost is through its in-house manufacturing and development of a robotics kit, complete with electronics and aluminum to assemble a driving robot! Recently, PiE has pushed to develop its own motor controllers and has to rely on multiple design iterations before arriving at a dependable motor controller for competition use.

For these reasons, PiE has depended on Advanced Circuits the last five years for all of its printed circuit board (PCBs) needs. From custom shields for the FEZ Panda II to the kits' motor controllers, PiE uses these PCBs manufactured by Advanced Circuits in its prototyping as well as creating the final product shipped in its robotics kits every year. Because PiE's electronics iterates through many cycles, PiE can always depend on Advanced Circuit's prompt delivery dates as well as high quality manufacturing in our PCBs. 

Thank you Advanced Circuits for your continued support for the past years and thank you for helping us support STEM outreach in the Bay Area! 

Interested in Mentoring For PiE?

Think back to your time in high school:  questions about college, uncertainties about your future, and what seemed like an endless pile of work.  When thoughts of college became overwhelming, we looked to our role models for assistance. 

That is where PiE and, more importantly, mentors as individuals come into play.  As a mentor, you will find students from a particular school and stay with them throughout the entire eight week PiE competition.  The students will grow and change under your guidance, and you will become the person they go to when they need help or have questions.

 In addition, you’ll be able to stimulate your creativity as you assist the students in building and designing a fully operational robot. Uncertain of your technical skills?  No problem!  Mentors may enroll in a student run, UC Berkeley course that will teach prospective mentors anything that they may need to know.  Already a robotics veteran? We will also be hosting and advanced course that takes on more difficult topics such as autonomous programming and sensor control.  Did we mention that you could get class credit too?

If you are interested in signing up, look under the “Get Involved-Become a Mentor” tab at the top of this page.  If you have any specific questions or concerns, e-mail us at mentorship@pioneers.berkeley.edu.  We accept all ages and all majors, and you need not be a UC Berkeley student to apply.

High School Teacher Pushes For Advanced Computer Science Classes

Mary Clarke-Miller teaches Encinal High's Multimedia class, a course that covers graphic design, web design, and Filmmaking. Her students learn digital animation, game design, and programming, and are introduced to software like Flash, Maya, BYOB, Unity and Javascript.  

This may sound like a mouthful for students whose schools don’t offer computer science courses. AP Computer Science is offered in only 10% of American high schools – and according to College Board, only 14,517 students took the AP computer science test in 2010, compared to 194,784 students that took the AP calculus test. There is such a shortage of students in computer science courses in high school that Microsoft is sending engineers into schools to encourage the next generation. 

Ms. Miller is pushing for more computer science classes for Encinal High. She believes that science and technology courses are important in high school because “project-based learning and applied theory helps students see the real world applications of core courses like math and physics”. That is essentially the goal of PiE – we strive to allow students to convert theory into practice by using their STEM skills to strategically build a functioning robot. While our team works to fulfill our vision, Ms. Miller and her team is working to fulfill another one: her team is working to bring two Computer Science courses to Encinal High: “Exploring Computer Science” and “CS Principles,” a course also known as “Joy and Beauty of Computing,” developed in UC Berkeley by Professor Dan Garcia. On top of that, they are even developing an after-school engineering class – to build electric go-carts!  

These are exciting steps forward for Encinal that were inspired by its participation in PiE. The discussion about bringing more CS courses to Encinal was spurred after Ms. Miller's students saw a video of the previous Encinal team participating in PiE’s robotic competition. We hope to continue inspiring and encouraging students and teachers in STEM fields.

Zipcar Success!

We want to extend a big "thank you" to the entire PiE community for your support during the Zipcar Students with Drive contest.

Thanks to your support, we have won $5,500 in Zipcar credits which will go towards transporting mentors from UC Berkeley to high schools across the Bay Area.

We wish you a happy Thanksgiving, and look forward to seeing all of you in the spring in our 2013 competition!

Prepping For College

Last week, the PiE Prep team and the high school students in Ralph Bunche High School took a break from their weekly STEM activities. Instead of designing paper rockets or building their own speakers, students were taught the basics for applying for college and financial aid. While many college bounded high-schoolers are filling out applications around this time of year, very few students from Ralph Bunch are actually thinking about higher education. 

Here are some staggering statistics: The high school drop-out rate for the Oakland Unified School District is about 34.8%, with a 63% CAHSEE pass rate – and Ralph Bunche’s CAHSEE pass rate is just 30%.

Two weeks ago, we brought the students to the UC Berkeley Campus to show them a typical day in college. After an inspiring presentation from bioengineering professor Terry Johnson about engineering career paths, the students showed great interest in his research projects – and science. We hope that by building strong relationships with these student and exposing to them to the exciting world of STEM, they will be inspired to continue their education. 

How would PiE use $5,500 in Zipcar credit?

PiE is currently in a contest to win $5,500 worth of Zipcar credits. Some people have been wondering: if we win this competition, how would we use the money?

As you know, PiE is a low-budget, student-run robotics competition based in UC Berkeley for underserved high schools all around the Bay Area. Our goal is for the money to go towards transporting our mentors from Berkeley to the high schools more often than in the past.

We will have about 24 teams this year for our seven week competition. If we get $5,500 from Zipcar, we can afford for our mentors to go their high schools more than twice as often as in the past. In previous years, mentors have either paid out of their own pocket for gas or have taken public transportation (which takes more than twice as long as driving).

If we divide our $5,500 by 24 teams, by 7 weeks, and by 8 dollars/hour, we can afford for our mentors to use 4 hours of Zipcar per week, doubling the amount of time many mentors were able to devote last year.

Twice as much time with mentors in high schools will help all of our participants learn more about science and engineering!

So, if you want to help underpriviledged students learn about science and engineering, please give us your vote! https://apps.facebook.com/students-with-drive/vote.php

Help PiE win $5,500 in Zipcar miles

We have some exciting news: Pioneers in Engineering is a finalist in the Zipcar Students with Drive contest! This means that we could win $5,500 in Zipcar hours if we win a Facebook voting competition.

With that many Zipcar hours, we can let our wonderful mentors use Zipcar to get from Berkeley to our high schools easier during the competition season. That means mentors will be able to spend less time commuting, and more time helping students build their robots!

Please vote for us and help us win this contest! It only takes 2 minutes at this link: http://apps.facebook.com/students-with-drive/

You will have to add the app, like Zipcar, and then you will be able to vote for PiE in the Academic category! Then, share it with your friends and ask them to vote for us too!

Every vote counts!

A Smashing Success!

Halloween: tricks, treats, and...flying pumpkins? This year, the PiE team built a giant trebuchet for Lawrence Hall of Science's Creepy Happy Halloween event. The finished model had a sixteen foot tall arm to launch 10 lb. pumpkins 200 feet across the lawn!

But it turns out that we're not the only creative ones: participants showed off their skills in PiE's supplementary workshop "Build Your Own Catapult," where they were able to build their mini catapult using legos, spoons, and rubber bands! Participants were also able to try out PiE's autofiring robot - and try to launch raquetballs into a castle. 

The Bay Area News Group captured the launch and the happy kids. Check it out!

Our Site's New Look

Hi everyone! You may have noticed that our website has a fresh new look. We redesigned the front end of our site from the ground up, featuring a much prettier and modern template and a more intuitive navigation tree. We hope this makes your browsing experience more pleasant and informative.

We are hard at work adding more features and functionality to our site to get it ready for the PiE 2013 season. Please feel free to email pit@pioneers.berkeley.edu if you have any questions or suggestions about our site!

-Amy Fu, former Director and current IT member