ROBOTS and HOME DISCOS and PCBs (oh my)

By Kevin Yang, teen @ Hack Club and FIRST® (captain of FIRST® Robotics Competition team 2877 “LigerBots” and Dean's List Finalist)


What would our robots be without electrical? A machined pile of aluminum? The janky bolting of polycarb? No matter the many names for a disabled FIRST Robotics Competition bot, our robots wouldn’t be the cone-grabbing, tennis ball-shooting machines that they are today without electrical. Electrical is the coils behind all our motors, the transistors within our computers, and especially the circuit boards that make up our robots. But electrical is so much more to me.


Turning my sister’s toys into a flamethrower


This summer, I turned my little sister’s toy dog-shaped guitar into a flamethrower using sunscreen, a taser, and an arduino. The key to all of this? Working around the circuit board that already controlled the toy. Circuit boards are the objects that keep all our electrical knicks and knacks together, mounting them into a nice little package. These very boards often contain the switches, processors, and controllers that power the devices around us. 


DIY Home Disco


Obsessed with combining music and lights, I started my circuit board journey as a child in my room, creating my own LED light shows. Using some basic circuitry—transistors and a chip—I designed my own volume meter, a device that bounces to my music volume. The experiments and noise were too much for my parents and they shut down my midnight raves. If it weren’t for PCBs, I would still have access to the aux.


Getting Dean’s Signature for a PCB


I’m currently collaborating with Dean Kamen and Hack Club on a limited edition programmable NFC badge that we’re giving away to teenagers who make a PCB with Hack Club’s $100 grant program, OnBoard. This badge will make a nice addition to any lanyard or FIRST-memorabilia collection!


Now Immma be Real…

PCB making used to be difficult. It used to be only available to large engineering firms, but nowadays you can freely design your own boards on any device and have it made and shipped to your door in a matter of days. With the help of tutorials, you can make your own FIRST PCB in no time. Go from zero to hero with our NFC business cards tutorial or our custom USB hub!


Plus, We’ll Cover The Cost!

That’s right! FIRST and Hack Club are giving out $100 grants to all students who submit a design. Any student can make their own circuit board!



Circuit Design Can Help Your FIRST Team

Making your own circuits can elevate your robot to the next level. Connor Menon of Team 4272 “Maverick Robotics” designed their own encoder for their swerve drive! This removes the need to use CAN and saves big on sensors– normally they’re $80 each. With the OnBoard grant, it’s $0. It also makes wiring so much easier, and makes things easier for their programmers.



A great activity for FIRST teams to do together!

Designing PCBs is a rewarding activity to do together and really gels the team! You can follow our NFC card workshop built for Team Leads and in 1-2 meetings everyone will have a design eligible for $100 grants. It’ll be so rewarding and cool when everyone gets their stuff in the mail and shows each other. It’s also great for off-season research when you want to experiment on new components for next year’s build.